The northern quest
From seeds to blooms in just over a year
by Lori-Ann Jones
Printed: The Daylily Journal Vol. 66 No 4 Winter 2011
Seeing a first year seedling bloom in your garden and realizing you are going in the right direction with your hybridizing goals are, without a doubt, the most exhilarating feelings a hybridizer can have. What is even better is to see your seedlings bloom the very next year after a spring seed planting. Since 1993 there has been an evolution of thoughts, practices and experiments and also the absorption of many and any ideas relating to starting seeds indoors and planting outdoors to be able to see daylily seedlings bloom in one year. Listening to many hybridizers, applying what they did to my own seed starting program and going on from there has led me to the point that the knowledge I am sharing can provide the groundwork for every northern hybridizer to experience seeing a large portion of their seedlings bloom in just over a year — without a greenhouse.
I only work with tetraploid seeds, and I do not presoak them prior to planting. The germination rate is good. My seeds are planted about ½ inch below the surface. I use a pencil marked at the depth desired to make the hole and the seeds are dropped in and covered with potting soil and then bottom watered to get the soil moist.
I sow my seeds in mid-February in seed trays placed in the basement on a table under one Bloom Boss square 14w LED blue grow light, a cool light (suggested by Melanie Mason, North Country Daylilies), and two florescent lights. All the lights are connected to a timer, and they are automatically on for 16 hours a day.
The area is wrapped loosely with half sheets of a survival blanket— a blanket that reflects body heat back to the body with an aluminum-foil looking side — hung from the ceiling with cup hooks. Fifteen inches on two ends are left open for air flow. A fan running on low also helps to promote air flow and to control surface mold. Leslie Nolan recommended using a survival blanket which adds extra reflective light, and what a difference they make! The light intensity is just about blinding, and the investment in the blankets seems well worth it. A word of caution: please be careful not to wrap your seedlings and lights tightly with the survival blanket because the blanket is not fire resistant.
The only fertilizer used in 2009 and 2010 was what was in the Miracle Gro® Potting Soil. Do not allow your seedlings to dry out. Bottom watering helps reduce surface mold development.
In 2009 and 2010, when I planted the first of the little seedlings, they were 3/16 inch wide (or less) at the base, and yet I saw blooms on many of them the following year. When my seedlings were brought out of the cellar in mid-April of both years and placed outdoors, Judy Davisson recommended covering them with a row and seed bed agricultural cloth cover (Remay) to harden them off. I found row fabric that looks like the cloth placed over blueberry bushes to deter the birds, and that works just fine keeping the seedlings from burning or drying up from being exposed to the sun versus artificial light.
Those seedlings resembled blades of grass, and they were cut back to about four inches high for easier handling and to reduce the demand on damaged roots when they were separated and planted the beginning of May, 2009 and 2010. However, separating a cluster of seedlings causes stress and root damage, and I found I was loosing many of those seedlings because my fingers were not used to working with such tiny little plants. It then took the seedlings at least a month of good growing weather to recuperate, meaning the remainder of the month of May and well into June. To my surprise however, I did see scapes and then flowers on many of the seedlings the following summer!
I credit this success to advice from Melanie Mason (who wrote, “The South End of a Northbound Horse” for the Region 10 newsletter, The Daylily Appeal, in 1997) and Charmaine Rich who drove home the use of horse manure and well-tilled soil. They both have had success in seeing blooms on their seedlings that are just a little over one year old. So, in the fall my husband adds horse manure and tills the garden bed helping the soil be soft and workable the following spring.
I made several changes for the 2011 growing season.
Mark Labbe, a fellow hybridizer, recommended using tree trays to plant the seeds, so when I started my seeds on February 19, 2011, each seed was planted in its own cell in a Landmark X-50-STV Tray, with 50 seedlings per tray which had ventilator holes at the top of the tray as well as drainage holes at the bottom. These trays are 4½ inches deep allowing for a great root system to develop. By planting one seed per cell, the need to separate the seedlings when it was time to plant was eliminated.
Another change I made this year was I used an additive, SUPERthrive™ (a rooting hormone with vitamins), at the recommended rate of two to three drops per gallon of water. This water solution was used for every bottom watering while the seedlings germinated and grew in the basement.
SUPERthrive™ was recommended to me by Lisa Bourret, Rockhaven Daylilies. Lisa adds a couple of drops to her water solution in buckets where she soaks her newly arrived plants for a few days to help reduce the shock of having been dug, shipped and replanted.
When the weather started to warm up in the first week in April, 2011, the seedlings were trimmed down to four inches, making the placement of the dome — a mini greenhouse — easier to set over the seedlings. They were moved outside on my deck, and a piece of a row cloth was placed over the domes for about a week allowing the seedlings to acclimate to full sun.
They were the only seedlings that were planted this year. At first the seedlings went through all kinds of stress. A few plants died because it was still cold during the day and night. On the whole, most recovered, and by the beginning of May, the domes were removed and the manufacturer’s recommended amount of Miracle-Gro® water soluble all purpose plant food (24-8-16) was mixed with water and poured over the seedlings with my
trusty watering can. This watering with Miracle-Gro® was done twice: once when the domes were removed and again about two weeks later.
For easier and less frequent watering, I kept the bottom tray under the seedlings, and I allowed a little liquid (a quarter inch or less) to remain in the tray. Leaving too much water can cause your seedlings to rot.
The seedlings were ready to be planted just before Memorial Day weekend (the last Monday in May) and completely planted by June 12, 2011.
A few years back, the seedling beds were redesigned with a four year turn around. The beds are only sixteen feet long by four feet wide, and the seedlings are planted approximately four inches apart. In the future, I will be giving my seedlings about 6 inches to grow. In the past years when I dug up a desired seedling, it didn't matter if I disturbed it's neighbor because the seedling may have been in the same spot for two (2) or three (3) years. Now that I am choosing and digging the seedling for observation and evaluation the first year, I do not want to disturb the seedlings around it just in case they may be what I am looking for to further my goals in hybridizing.
Choosing your seedlings for evaluation in one year and digging them up requires just a little more room. I will still give the remaining seedlings one more year to show me what they have to offer. Usually not many more will catch your attention, but sometimes you are very grateful that you gave the seedlings one more year. On the seedlings that you move that first year to an evaluation bed, you now need to give those seedlings two ( 2 ) more years to show you their stuff.
A scoop, about ½ ounce or one tablespoon of Nutricote® (18-6-8), 140 day slow release fertilizer with mircronutrients, is placed where each seedling will be planted.
I saw a program where Dutch bulb planters use a trowel to pull tilled soil toward them instead of digging a hole to plant bulbs. They inspired the way my seedlings are planted. You can see by placing the trowel in the center of the Nutricote®, and then pulling back toward yourself, the Nutricote® is dispersed in layers down the hole.
The seedling is then removed from the tray with the help of an old spoon handle which is slipped down the inner wall of the cell.
Just a little bit of tilting of the handle and pulling upward with the spoon while holding onto the seedling base with the other hand and voila, out comes the seedling.
Tease only the bottom of the roots a little before planting the seedling. Try not to disturb the rest of the root system. This seedling is close to 4 months old and look at the root system that the use of SUPERthrive™ has encouraged.
The base of most of these seedlings measured over a half inch in diameter this year. They were so much larger than in previous years. And it was easy to plant these babies.
The seedling is now ready to be planted in full sun, so the trowel is pulled toward me to allow the seedling to slip down the back of the trowel. The soil is then pushed around the seedling and firmly tamped down around the plant.
The next step after planting an area is to put down a pre-emergent herbicide to help prevent weed seed germination. (Be sure to check the package for information regarding when it is safe to apply pre-emergent herbicides around new transplants. Or consider alternatives such as mulch or weed barrier cloth.) The seedlings should not be fighting for nutrients at this time.
The final step is to water the seedlings in with a solution of water and two to three drops of SUPERthrive™ per gallon of water. This is the last application of this product.
Once the solution of SUPERthrive™ has been watered over the seedlings, make sure you set the plants by really soaking the area with water.
Now, don’t worry if your plants look about the same size for the next couple of months with little to no visible growth. What is happening, and you cannot see this is the roots are really beginning to grow. Once the seedlings have exhausted the soil of SUPERthrive™, they will then start to accept the Nutricote® and horse manure and you will begin to see top growth. Make sure you keep your seedlings watered because this is very important for good growth above and below the surface. One final note on SUPERthrive™, do not use it to water in annuals. Three years ago, I accidentally watered in my Blitz Impatiens with a solution of SUPERthrive™.
The Blitz Impatiens usually grow to be very large and these were not growing as in the past. It took until late July for the Blitz Impatiens to resume above the ground growth, and by then they should have been over twelve ( 12) inches high. When I removed the Impatiens in the Fall, the root system was amazing. This accident was a blessing in disguise because I actually saw what SUPERthrive™ does below the surface. This was another key to the puzzle to see seedlings bloom in just over a year.
This picture is showing seedlings planted in 2009 on the left, seedlings planted in 2008 in the center and 2007 to the right.
Every seedling is labeled making it easier for me to keep track of everything.
Keeping good records of your crosses is very important if you want to know past, present and what may occur in the future.
This picture is my 2010 seedlings in the early summer. The plants are not as large as the 2009 plants, but many budded up.
I do use the pollen from these seedlings, and I also try to set pods on my brand new babies. Sometimes they set pods and sometimes they don’t, but there is always next year. Charmaine Rich convinced me to give this a try and that I would not harm my first year plants by setting pods. Mark Labbe also sets pods on his first year seedlings. I would not recommend over doing it. One or two crosses on a new seedlings is fine.
The 2011 seedlings that were planted are beginning to grow and look like this on August 27, 2011.
By September 15, 2011, these seedlings are really beginning to show above the ground growth.
Without a doubt, I will say that in 2012, most of these one year old seedlings will bloom.
This information that I am sharing will give any northern hybridizer an opportunity to see quickly if the crosses are helping one’s hybridizing program move in the desired direction. You may do 3000 seeds and say, “I can’t do all this on all my seeds. Too much work.” But what if you did this with your top crosses, the most exciting ones? You could see if you are going in the right direction or if a given parent seems to be working for what you are trying to accomplish. Wouldn’t it be great to see some of your dreams come true quicker than two or three years?
An excellent suggestion was given to me by Mike Huben. He has recommended putting a little sand paper in a small bottle, placing the seeds of your cross inside the bottle and shaking to scratch the seeds. Dan Matzek, a fellow hybridizer, used Mike’s method this past year, and he said, “I had the best germination ever.”
I plan on trying this method this coming year as I believe there is always room for improvement.
Author’s note: A special thanks to Mike Huben for helping me through
the rough spots while writing this article.