Tuesday, June 13, 2017
Looking back over 2016 is something I had planned to do earlier in the year, but it has gotten put off over and over as I have worked on my new Sun Dragon Daylilies website and blog. 2016 was very transformative and is, to me, the end of one phase of my program and the beginning of another. I now embark on developing lines from the base-stock I have selected to move forward with. This will allow me to pursue selection for both plant traits and flower traits. Pursuing flower traits, in many ways, has been delayed, and I have given only cursory interest to flowers, mainly through bringing in stock with traits I want to work with. As I have screened for desirable plant traits I have made test-matings to make determinations of combining ability and breeding value, and have also chosen select seedlings from those test matings.
I have discussed these new directions in previous writing from late 2016 and early 2017, so I will only touch on them again in the end of this post. What I haven’t focused on is the gardening year and my screening in the hybridizing garden and seedling beds for resistance to rust and insect predators such as thrips and aphids, as well as my experiences with deer fencing.
Last spring came early and plants emerged in late March. That is later than they have emerged in 2017, as I began seeing serious growth this year on many things in January of 2017. Once things came up last spring, there was little damage, only mild and weather became hot and dry fast, staying that way through May. Thrips were very active in the dry, hot conditions. I did a heavy culling on seedlings for lack of thrip resistance in the early part of the flower season. I was able to make identifications for resistance to thrips and I was able to make new observations of things that had appeared resistant to thrips and aphids in the past.
Rust arrived from parts south last spring on new plants with active sporulation on arrival. This gave me the longest rust season I have ever had in the five years of screening for susceptibility/resistance. By June I had rust on several very susceptible things and by August, rust was well spread onto susceptible plants throughout the beds. This allowed me to begin a rust exposure and screening cycle that lasted until the first major frost in the end of October. While the results of this was an excellent year for observation and selection, it was also extremely work intensive.
I culled through every seedling bed here five times, marking seedlings by tagging and then finally digging them for removal at the time of first frost when the rust screening cycle was over. In the end, I removed over ten-thousand, two and three seedlings, as well as some few from older groups and younger groups. It was an incredible amount of work.
It has become clear to me over the last few years that the giant projects with mass culling have to come to an end, because I simply can’t manage them anymore. I am very glad to have done them, as I have the information I need to proceed and work with more focused programs in smaller numbers. I would recommend anyone with the space, inclination, time and energy to make long crosses, test many plants for breeding value, cull through many seedlings and then pick a handful to make a breeding program from. I think making your own line requires a distillation effect at the beginning wherein you blend other peoples work and/or species forms into your own line with your own vision and criterion.
So it is that I am at the point where I have to focus and reduce numbers at the time when I can do that within the genetic formulation of my program. I certainly couldn't had planned that. It is just a lucky accident.
At this point, I have enough things tested for breeding value for flower and plant traits to proceed with a more focused program and begin to create the types of plants I want to grow and the types of flowers I want to see. I have grown a few of the plants that have made the cut as founders for many years and have long-term growing experience with them, while others were brought-in or grown from seed within the last six years.
My overall observation for thrip resistance and aphid resistance is that it is moderate in most cultivars in ideal growing conditions, but in less than ideal growing conditions, many daylilies show fairly high susceptibility to predation by these insect pests. However, I have begun to identify a few seedlings and cultivars among both diploids and tetraploids that seem to show high to moderately high resistance when there is a heavy insect predator population and seem to have done so for several years. I have seen none that I would consider to be immune, though.
Most people think of insect predation from these pests as manifesting as spotting and colorless, faded or scraped looking areas on the flower petals, but this is not the only form of damage that can occur from these pests. In early spring, a very hot, dry period in the spring can cause thrips to increase and feed on early-forming scapes or if a bit later in the cycle, the newly-forming buds on the scapes. In both instances there can be many deleterious side effects, including bud death/bud drop, thorn-like projections on the outside of the bud and deformations of the flower petals if they do survive, including the classical “spotting” that we often associate with these pests. Highly resistant plants seem to show lesser effects, with some variation, to all of these problems, some showing considerable resistance to all thee traits.
Seedling - Early and Often x Army of Darkness
Late freeze damage seems to play a role in how severe the damage from the insect pests is, perhaps because scapes damaged in the formative stages may already be weakened even before the insect predation begins. At any rate, there seems to be some relationship between late freezes, dry and hot weather and insect predation. Spraying is the easiest alternative, but for those who might not wish to spray, there aren’t really many options I have found to date for buying cultivars that show resistance to these insect pests. The presence of Preying Mantis (which I use heavily in my gardens) definitely can decrease insect pest numbers, but they are not large enough or active enough during the worst of my general thrip/aphid season (the early/early and early daylily season, especially) to make a dent at those times. They work great in high summer though.
My experience is that thrips are at their worst at the beginning of bloom season, but taper off in the high heat of summer in the mid to late season. Aphids for me are at their worst in the fall, warm periods in the winter and early spring. I don’t see them much in summer either, and that may be in part due to a lot of Mantis in the garden.
Because of the typical time period of appearance of thrips in my garden, the early flowered types all show the most damage, though later things that look better may in fact be no more resistant. My focus on resistance for thrips is across all seasons, but the greatest focus in this regard is with early types, as there are so few of the early types (whether bred in the south or north) that show good resistance to thrips in my screening that those that do show resistance stand out. I have noticed the things that show good resistance here also seem to show some other common traits, though I do not suggest that such traits are linked. For instance, while the few seemingly resistant types I have identified occur across all foliage types and plant behaviors, they all seem to show high frost tolerance with some also showing some level of frost resistance.
In time, as I look at this issue further, I will report more on what I find and if any progress can be made in increasing resistance to these plant pests through breeding and selection. I now have enough material that seems to show resistance to these pests to make some attempt to breed and select for it, and preliminary seedling results seem encouraging. More to come.
2016 was the final year of my five year screening program for rust resistance, and it was also a very intense year for rust infection and sporulation that lasted from June through October and allowed me to do multiple passes through the fields of seedlings and cultivars, making further notes and selections for both resistance (keepers) and susceptibility (culls).
I will be writing a more detailed post about my thoughts and observations on rust resistance at a later date, but for now, I will say that rust resistance seems to be real and genetically heritable, the resistance response can be variable in many cultivars depending on the pathotype of rust involved, some cultivars show better resistance than others, some show better breeding value for resistance than others, and some few cultivars or species forms seem to show broad-based resistance or seeming-immunity in all five years of my screening. The most important aspects of rust resistance breeding and selection includes proper exposure and realistic expectations. Some daylily cultivars can be difficult to infect with rust, but then are quite susceptible once they do become infected. Others contract the fungus quickly. False identifications for resistance can be made if difficult-to-infect cultivars are not adequately exposed to rust.
Active rust screening, selection and breeding therefore requires a good amount of attention and work. It is very important with test subjects to increase the number of clumps of said cultivar/clone/seedling in the test plot, randomly spread throughout the test plot, and finally to be sure they are interspersed with highly susceptible cultivars to ensure heavy sporulate exposure. Without this, false positives for resistance are almost inevitable.
My schedule for each year has included bringing in around 100 divisions of a wide range of daylily plants from southern-state sellers where rust is likely, in order to ensure that rust would be present in my garden for that year’s screening. From the first appearance of rust, exposure of the most susceptible plants began and from that point forward, weekly “rust-sweeping” occurred using a broom made from the most heavily sporulated leaves attached to a bamboo handle. Once the susceptible plants surrounding test-subjects were heavily sporulated, the sweeping ceased as heavy sporulate exposure was assured at that point. This usually occurred around August/September in most of the five years of screening. From that point forward, notes were made on resistance/susceptibility levels and plants were tagged to be moved for further testing or culled from the selection program. This was done at regular intervals, falling between one or two weeks, until the first hard frost ended rust sporulate for the year. After that time I would go through and dig out all those left that were marked for culling. This was done with usually a few hundred cultivars and several thousand seedlings. In some of the five years of screening, this was a very large amount of work. 2016, the last year of the cycle, took a very large amount of effort and left me physically worn-out.
My goal all along has been to complete a five year screening cycle to identify a handful of cultivars/clones that showed resistance and breeding value for resistance in all five years of screening to use as a base for passive resistance breeding within my program, mating those cultivars and their seedlings with each other and plants that showed high resistance (though not seemingly-immune) or that showed high resistance but were not tested throughout all of the five years of screening. Once this point had been reached, the passive resistance program could begin. As well, other parts of my program that I have been working toward, but had not been able to yet make a focus throughout the last six years, can begin to come to the fore.
Before I move on to the goals within my program moving forward into 2017, and the next five year period of my program, I will finish out with a look at deer predation. As I detailed in a previous post, the deer were especially troublesome and aggressive in feeding on the daylilies last year. This prompted some changes and yet more streamlining of my work and the areas of the gardens I am using for my breeding work.
In short, I have found no daylily cultivars, clones, seedlings or species types that show any resistance to deer predation. There may be no genetic diversity in the daylily that would allow resistance to deer to be selected. I don’t see why gene-exchange would be impossible, in an effort to create daylilies that repel deer (how about adding a non-toxic mint or lavender protein that works to keep deer away in those species?), but I see no will to do so. Perhaps someone will in time.
The only effective means to keep deer away from daylilies is a fence. The fence needs to be at least 6’-8’, depending on the location of the fence and what is around it. In an open area where deer can make a good jump, 8’ is the minimum. In a situation where the fenced area is surrounded by steep slopes or nearby fencing, 6’ to 7’ seems to be acceptable. In extreme situation, 10’ fences may even be necessary. In short though - in an area of heavy deer predation, a fence is necessary to protect valuable and desirable plants, period.
Last year, I added this ten feet x one inch uv-stabilized conduit to the fence around the hybridizing garden. These were strapped to the t-posts and light weight wire was attached to achieve a fence height of 7'.
Sprays and various concoctions can be useful at times, but they must be kept up with religiously, never letting them completely fade away, and they never seem to last for me as long as they are listed to last on the bottles. Where I have to spray, I find seven to ten days to be the maximum time between applications, depending on rain. A fence is better, but a fence won’t work everywhere, so try deer repellent sprays before you completely give up.
In this picture you can see the conduit strapped to the t-posts from the inside of the finished fence.
Dogs are helpful. In many yards/gardens/farms where dogs are present, deer are keen to avoid the property. Not everyone can keep dogs. Where dogs can’t be kept and sprays fail or are impossible, you will need a fence. If you can’t have dogs, can’t spray and can’t have a fence in an area heavy in deer predation, I recommend concrete yard decoration, rock gardens and hobbies other than those involving plants (except, perhaps, those kept in greenhouses or indoors).
Inside view of finished fence with conduit and wire up to 7'. The light wire on the top, being green, is barely visible. So far, it has worked very well for nearly a year. It was very easy for me to install and a simple solution for this area.
My own journey with deer predation is incorporating several of these techniques. Specifically, I am incorporating more deer-proof fencing, I spray areas that can’t be fenced (accepting that anything less than perfect timing on spraying leads to grazing at the edges of beds, more the longer the next spraying is delayed) and the relinquishment of some garden areas to other types of plants (bamboo, Hellebores, tree peonies, etc.) or to no garden plants at all (with the requisite concrete or stone decor). I haven’t tried dogs yet, but I am considering it (I rather like Great Pyrenees). This has all required that I begin to refocus my plans and narrow my focus, but in the end, that is actually going to be a good thing for me, and is certainly timely.
As the 2017 season is beginning, I am looking at a number of significant shifts in focus.
This spring saw my first sales and shipping of both my own set of first introductions and the daylilies by other hybridizers that I offered. I am happy to say that this test-run went very well. I look forward to continuing to offer daylilies and I am especially grateful to everyone who bought my own introductions. I am excited to spread these plants out to other growers and hybridizers and I look forward to your reports on their performance in your gardens and what you are able to produce through hybridizing with them.
The experiences of 2016 and so far in 2017 now leads to a regrouping of how I look at my daylily collection. I can say that I see two major directions, in regards to the plants, 1.) those with a focus on rust resistance and semi-evergreen (or hardy evergreen) foliage aimed toward southern gardeners who can test for rust resistance and who may have an interest in doing so and 2.) those with a focus toward a specific type of plant that shows foliage senescence (deciduous or “dormant” behavior), apparent dormancy and resting-bud formation, late emergence from dormancy in spring and either/both frost tolerance and frost resistance, and are appropriate for northern gardens, though they may fail in the south.
This basic split will suffuse every area of my daylily work. It involves what I breed and how my base-stock can now be incorporated to make lineages. It involves who would benefit most from a given cultivar or seedling (i.e., rust resistance for the south, slow spring emergence in the north, frost tolerance for the north and south, etc.). It involves what I will want to develop from given plants, and also determines things that I will want to retain in my program and things I now wish to distribute to parts north or south. It involves the recommendations I will make to customers and those seeking information about plants for various uses. It involves how I will work with my own program and what I have to learn to accept (for example, the presence of non-dormant and non-late emergent foliage in late spring and winter, etc.) in my own garden. It involves what I will write about moving forward and how I will want to interface with the daylily community at large and within its various localities or groups.
So moving forward there are two basic directions - 1.) rust resistance for southern gardens with a focus on southern-preferential foliage behaviors and 2.) late-emergent foliage types combined with the other four major foliage selection points showing very fine garden traits and flower advances (often being brought in slowly from ancestors with southern-preferential foliage). However, both directions will share many common ancestors within my base stock.
For example, let us say a cultivar that shows excellent foliage traits in the vein of the northern-preferential plants, showing the five foliage-behavior target points that I prefer as outlined above, is selected and crossed to an evergreen with very high rust resistance. One offspring from this cross, having shown repeatedly high rust resistance during multiple years of testing and also showing non-dormancy in foliage behavior, might be an individual that would be of great use to some in the south, but might have little interest for a northern gardener where the rust resistance would be less important and the foliage behavior might be seen as a liability.
Let us say that I find this plant hardy enough to keep and can overlook the episodes wherein freezes after warm-spells leave it a mess for a few weeks in the spring. Then through breeding-value testing, I find it throws some of the foliage traits of the northern-preferential, apparent-dormancy parent and some of the traits of the southern-preferential, non-dormancy parent, and I also note that some of the seedlings of both foliage types are in their turn rust resistant through several years of screening. Such a plant then has breeding value for both the northern-preferential foliage traits and southern-preferential foliage traits, as well as apparent breeding value for rust resistance. In addition, let us say the flower is nice, and so this plant is desirable to use for both northern-preferential line formation and southern-preferential line formation where the rust resistance is of much greater importance.
Such a seedling could then lead to a bridge plant or an introduction that is best for more southerly gardens, where its foliage type and rust resistance may give it value for gardens or breeding programs, but it also could then figure into subsequent generations of my own breeding that was not aimed for use in the south or for rust resistance breeding. The heterozygosity for various genes involved in foliage behavior in such a plant would give it possible uses in either direction, while its possible breeding value for seeming rust resistance can add a layer of interest to it for southern gardens.
Much of my own seedling-rearing is going to be moving more toward these northern-preferential foliage types, as those are the plants I prefer to look at and grow and I think they are important to the success of daylilies for northern gardens. However, I don’t want to only grow and breed these exclusively. First, I have found very, very few daylily cultivars or seedlings that show a combination of three or four of my five targeted foliage traits. I only have a handful of cultivars that show four of the traits combined. I have a several more with three of the traits combined. I have none where all five target foliage traits are combined into one plant. Can they be combined? How many of these traits will respond to selection or show actual heritability? That is the question, and a focus for the next five year segment of my breeding program.
Second, being between the northern region and the southern region, my climate allows me to maintain a range of foliage types, but the highly variable winters with late spring freezes also gives me the opportunity to screen non-dormancy foliage types for hardiness and susceptibility to serious freeze damage. In this way I am ideally suited to make use of non-dormancy foliage types that have shown hardiness and have shown a high level of vigor and seeming rust resistance during my screening. This allows me to maintain southern-preferential foliage behavior plants to make crosses aimed toward rust resistance, as well as use them and their offspring in selection toward flower phenotype selection within the northern-preferential foliage type group that will become a more prominent focus, especially should it turn out that all the factors I seem to be observing are heritable and selectable.
While rust resistance is most important to southern growers, there would be nothing wrong with northern-focused plants also having rust resistance. It is a useful trait when rust is present, which is why I made an effort to find northern-preferential foliage type plants that showed apparent resistance to rust in my screening, and then made an effort that the best of these were one side of any and all crosses with southern-preferential foliage type plants that also showed some higher level of resistance.
The tiny handful of northern-preferential foliage type cultivars that also showed high rust resistance are thus a major focus of all my breeding and will be foundational to my continued work with the attempt to select for foliage type and flower type as I move forward. The hope is that some rust resistance genetics may be found in the descendants of these base plants, however, since they are aimed for northern gardens, that is not a major concern or focus. This also allows me to utilize very good plants that show only moderate rust resistance, but high levels of combination of the five target foliage traits.
On the other hand, I have quite a few cultivars that are evergreen or semi-evergreen registered types that show high rust resistance, but show very poor seedling survivability in my winters, though some of them are very good seed setters with excellent germination. These work best for me as pollen parents onto very cold-hardy pod parents and it is through such crosses that most seedlings from these cultivars derive in my program. Some of these ev/sev types have high mortality of their seedlings, but a few survive and have some fair hardiness, at least being able to be used as bridge plants toward more cold hardy plants in my climate. Some of these plants are very vigorous and grow very well, but since I only use them for pollen, if I use them at all, I don’t need them in large quantities. I plan to liquidate many of my southern-preferential foliage type clumps that show high levels of rust resistance, maintaining small amounts of those I find most useful and the best seedlings I have produced from these southern-preferential foliage type cultivars to date. I think these are all important plants for breeding rust resistance in the south, so I don’t simply want to compost them.
It has become clear to me that it is going to have to be southern breeders with an interest in rust resistance who do the most active selection for this trait. Many people, myself included, have presented anecdotal or published information about rust resistant cultivars and the reality of breeding for the trait. There is much general information on the breeding and selection of rust resistance in plants in the published literature of the plant breeding sciences. The information is there, and all that it requires are hybridizers in gardens that have rust endemically (i.e., who do not have cold enough winters to eliminate it from their gardens and do not have to import it every spring ) to select the most recurrently-resistant plants, breed from them and repeat the process. It is a lot of work, but if rust is endemic to your garden, then you are the person in a really suitable situation to do the long-term work. I can only hope there is any interest out there. If you also bring in plants regularly fro other southern gardens where there is rust, you may even expose your plants to multiple pathotypes of rust and improve the level of selection you can make.
To that end, I will be making crosses of the most recurrent and seemingly highly resistant cultivars and seedlings I have that have also shown breeding value for rust resistance. These will be crosses with a focus toward southern-preferential foliage types, with at least one parent (most often the pod parent) an evergreen or semi-evergreen, and both parents showing high rust resistance in my screening, to create seeds to send to growers in southern zones where these seedlings can be grown, screened for resistance and resistant individuals selected for further use.
Some of these crosses may be of such interest to me that I grow a few, but they will no longer be the bulk of my seed growing efforts. In this way, I hope to keep certain lines with genetics for southern-preferential foliage and rust resistance, both for any unforeseen vagaries of weather or climate, and to encourage the breeding and selection of rust resistant plants through offering seeds from such plants as well as their best seedlings within my own program for continued testing. In this way I hope to reduce the numbers of seedlings I am growing while still making crosses aimed toward resistance and working to get those out to the parts of the daylily community that can make the most use of them.
The bulk of my interest and breeding is toward a specific type of plant. It is a very specific combination of traits, and then upon that plant, all the flower phenotypes that dance through my mind are layered. At least in my mind’s eye…
I find myself with materials to breed in a much broader way, though I also find myself at a point where my own field work needs to decrease. This has lead me to question how to deal with the bulk of those plants that had the highest ranking in my rust resistance screening program, and what to move forward with in my own seedling beds.
The only way I can see to move forward is with a reduction of southern-preferential foliage type cultivars that have shown repeatedly high rust resistance because I have finished breeding from several of them and for space considerations, with retention of their best seedlings (as those will all have one parent with the targeted, northern-preferential foliage traits), to continue using within my own strain formation work and possibly as future introductions where merited. It is from these best cultivars and select seedlings that I will make seeds with an emphasis on southern needs while also using those plants in my own work with a focus on northern-preferential foliage types.
Inevitably, I will produce non-dormancy foliage type seedlings from these select seedlings. I will continue to select those for hardiness and frost tolerance, while continuing to use them where they merit it, possibly introducing some of them if they merit it and possibly continuing to use some of these southern-preferential foliage, rust resistant seedlings in seed production for southern, rust resistant programs, as well.
I had hoped to keep this a fairly short and precise overview of 2016 and where I hope to head now moving forward into 2017. I really should have known better. I have had a hard time putting my new direction into words, and have taken months to write this blog post, which should have taken a few hours, but the need to really formulate what I wanted to say into something understandable and as specific as possible has seen me spend a lot more time thinking about what I wanted to say in this post, than actually writing it.
I hope I have conveyed my new directions well, but I would also point out that this post is just an overview, a looking back over the past and an introduction to where I am headed, and I will elaborate over the next few years on the many new topics I have outlined here. I want to write one or two more posts about my rust screening program from 2012 through 2016 and make suggestions about proper protocols and realistic goals for rust resistance breeding. I also have a couple more posts to write for my series of posts on growing daylilies and daylilies as art, and then I will be introducing new series focusing on the next phase of my breeding program.
Monday, March 13, 2017
Sunday, March 5, 2017
New Post Added
Growing Daylilies Part 2 - Using color in the landscape has been added to the Growing Daylilies page. Click the link here or go to Growing Daylilies to read the new article.
Wednesday, February 22, 2017
Announcing a major facelift to this blog for 2017...
I have created a series of new stand-alone pages, all linked in the menu bar at the top of the page.
These new pages each list a series of blog posts by topic. Utilize them to navigate the site and to keep up with new posts in any subject that is of particular interest to you.
The new page topics are...
Posts pertaining to how I grow, field test, breed and select daylilies.
Posts concerning selection of and breeding for rust resistance.
A series of posts looking at the life history of the Hemerocallis.
A series of posts looking at the influences on my aesthetic view of daylily phenotypes.
Pages pertaining to my own breeding results.
For beginners and gardeners alike.
A focus on basic ideas and guidelines for getting the most out of growing daylilies.
A listing of cultivars with descriptions of my anecdotal experiences of growing and breeding from each. This list will expand over time.
Monday, January 9, 2017
2016 In Review
Looking Back at My Program
This post picks up where my last one (2016 Thanks and Gratitude) left off. In that post I stressed that I can only encourage all the many directions being taken in the daylily world in terms of breeding. I also pointed out that my blog is simply a chronicle of my personal direction and not to be taken as a dictate on what your program should be. I wanted to take this blog post to explain how I view my program and its progress up to this time.
At the beginning of my breeding work with Hemerocallis in 2010, I already had been growing daylilies for over thirty years and breeding animals for nearly that long as well. So I had the experience of growing many daylilies, as well as the knowledge of how all my previous breeding projects had unfolded. One thing I knew going in was that no matter what ‘look’ or phenotypes I was most attracted to, no matter what I might arbitrarily choose to focus on based on looking at flowers or flower pictures in catalogs and online, the actual act of growing and testing the plants would inevitably steer me in directions I couldn’t have foreseen. This always happens for me in any program. Why? Because I don’t just value visual traits. I also value performance traits, and the thing I most value is a good balance of the two trait sets.
I knew going in that I would need a minimum of a five year period to determine what plants had the plant performance traits, as well as breeding value for those traits, that I would desire to perpetuate within a breeding program. I knew that to make those determinations, I would need to test many plant (cultivars and species clones) until I found the handful that expressed those intangible traits I value, breeding value for those traits AND have the ability to produce and reproduce attractive flowers.
In the series of blog posts I made during the summer of 2016 about ‘The Daylily as Art’, I discussed all my favorite phenotype traits. To be honest, my very favorite flowers are those extremely overdone southern beauties with eyes, triple edges, teeth and patterns, and preferably in some shade of lavender or purple. However, I don’t think that just those are of value or interesting to work with, and I appreciate many ‘less-fancy’ looks. One thing that has been remarkably consistent across all plants and animals that I have worked with is that the most fancy are also often the most inbred, the most difficult to keep and work with, the most difficult to breed from and will almost universally show deleterious traits that have been ignored in the pursuit of the amazing visual combinations seen in such highly selected lines. With that in mind, I knew that what I thought the most visually stunning likely would not be the place to start a breeding program, but rather is an ideal to strive toward, patiently and with care.
And that is just the point. From 2010 to now, I have been establishing a program. Now stop and think about that for a moment. ‘Establishing a program’. What does that mean? Well, it means that I am not looking for the flashiest or most popular, but rather those plants which display and have breeding value for exceptional plant traits as well as nice flowers. If that is combined, in some rare instances, with advanced flower traits, that is a plus, but I knew going in that it wouldn’t be common to find the most advanced flower traits with the most extreme expression of valuable plant traits.
So what to do? Well, I understand breeding and genetics. What you see isn’t always what you get. Traits can be manipulated, transferred into other genetic backgrounds, improved or salvaged - moving them from a lesser genetic background into a superior one. However, such work can’t be done without having a working knowledge of the performance and breeding value of a few lines, in order to have material for salvage work and the transfer of desirable flower traits onto plants with desirable plant traits.
I also know that in the pursuit of ever greater extremes of flower traits, very few breeders will take the time to go back to the drawing board, starting from scratch to improve a popular trait that is found on a difficult line. So it was almost inevitable that some of the most desirable traits won’t be found on the most robust and desirable plants. That is to be expected, is regular in any hobby breeding (whether plants or animals) and is just a datum to add to any calculations when starting out. It is not an indictment of anyone or their program.
And that is the point - starting out. Starting out, I was seeking to take the time to grow a large number of cultivars and clones in conditions to reveal their strengths and weakness, to find the specific lines/plants that had the traits (and breeding value for those traits) I want (both plant traits and flower traits) and use that knowledge and experience to establish a breeding base to create a program that can be used in two ways. The first is to simply interbreed within those plants and their seedlings to intensify those desirable traits (whether plant traits, flower traits or both) and the second is to use the best of those lines as outcross/salvage bases for integrating new flower traits from other programs where those plants may have shortcomings in terms of plant trait qualities.
Let me reiterate this point. Everything you have read on my blog to date, everything that I have done up to this point, is in the pursuit of finding the materials to create a breeding base, to create a breeding program. I placed no particular restraints on where to look for such material, so I have grown everything from species clones to old cultivars, all ploidy levels and many conversions, as well as many of the newest and most advanced. In selecting the material to build a breeding base from, I have simply cast my net wide and patiently waited to see what crossed the many hurdles I have set up as a tool of selection for base stock.
Now, as we are into 2017, and I have completed my sixth year of daylily breeding, I have found that base of plants to move forward with in the pursuit of developing my own program. I have tested over 1100 cultivars and clones, and while I could continue this process almost indefinitely, I have more than enough material to work from (in fact, more than I could ever properly work with and explore). So it is time to take the best of those that I have worked with and their best seedlings and move forward. I am now into the third generation with many of my original crosses that proved themselves worthy of continuation, and I have also found a fair number of other good (and a few truly exceptional) plants to begin to integrate into the bases I have already established or to cross onto those cultivars/clones that have shown themselves repeatedly useful over the past six years.
So now at the beginning of the 7th year, I am actually just beginning to start my own breeding program. For a time, this means I won’t be bringing in new plants. Rather I will just be working with the best of what I have, which is probably a job far more vast than I can ever really deal with fully, or explore all the possible avenues available to me through those plants. That doesn’t mean, however, that I won’t ever be bringing new plants in. I most certainly will and I am always looking at the new introductions of other breeders. Eventually, something will be irresistible, but for now, I will take the next phase of my program to establish a reliable base from which future new accessions can be reliably integrated into my program.
To me, this is a reasonable and expected progression, and while I couldn’t have told you at the start what cultivars would make the cut, I could easily predict the movement through time of how my program would unfold, the stages I would move through and the relative time it would take to reach each point. The overall projection of my breeding program extends out to twenty years, with four points at five years each. The first phase actually took six years. I am now entering the second phase and I can project that phase to extend out for four, five or six years.
The first phase (phase 1) was about identifying breeding materials from which lines could be developed that would suit my taste in both plant traits and flower traits. This phase was an open phase, in the sense that new plants came in every year, usually spring and fall, and all materials were tested to identify target traits, and used in breeding to test for breeding value of any traits of interest.
The second phase (phase 2) is about establishing a base of breeding that intensifies desired traits, both plant and flower traits, and combines desired traits into lines, producing lines rich in desired traits, always looking for advances, where any trait, flower or plant, is taken to a new level. This is a closed phase, as no new material will be brought in through the period of this phase. That allows total focus on the selected plants already here, and allows focused exploration on the many possibilities for both plant and flower selection that those selected lines offer. My expectation is that through this phase, further concentration will occur, with some lines falling by the wayside while other lines become central to future efforts.
This second phase is very exciting to me, as for the first time I will be able to make crosses that are basically just about the flower, because I am making those crosses on previously tested base lines that have proven to have desired traits and breeding value for those traits. Up to this point, I have been making crosses with many considerations in mind - the desire to test for multiple traits. Now, I have the experience and information to begin to make crosses with the flower as the main focus, because I know what plant traits I can expect from the plants I grow and have been test mating for breeding value. So now, I begin to move more into the realm of art, as I am standing on a base of experience and knowledge that has been hard-won through years of testing.
I will continue to apply many of the tests that I have previously used to my seedlings to continue to identify, concentrate and enhance the best genes for plant trait qualities. That is a given, though I will modify the focus of some of those traits and will be working with smaller numbers of seedlings in general. This second phase is about concentrating desirable genes of all kinds - the plant traits and the flower traits. The key to doing this is the result of the first phase - testing for expression of desirable traits and finding those that also have breeding value for those traits. Without the first phase, the second phase would be much more haphazard. I consider my approach to be conservative, patient, grounded in experience and rounded out through a consideration for plant breeding science as well as a love of art.
So what is the point of this second phase? It is to concentrate the best traits I have found through the testing phase. It is a process of focusing. A narrowing and winnowing that allows all my energy to go into lines that have already shown results. It seeks to apply all energy to achieving results, rather than seeking data. The first phase was an information gathering exercise. The second phase is about putting that information into action.
Other programs may assume different forms, follow different timelines and use other methods. Those are equally valid and each person has to determine what they will do in their own program, and I can only encourage you to think about what you want and how to achieve that, and then follow it. Follow your bliss and your dreams. The daylily world needs every program and every focus.
If you are new to breeding, consider what you really want to achieve. There are two basic divisions - a well rounded program that considers many traits and a program that is singularly focused on one or two traits. These two directions should not be at odds, at war with each other, but recognize that they balance each other and that each can benefit greatly from the other.
As a final note, I often hear an argument among tetraploid breeders as to whether conversions are a good thing or not. One group says there is already enough tetraploid genetic material and that new conversions are not necessary and may even be detrimental when poor plants are converted and then used liberally by many breeders. The other side says that it is only through the use of conversions that real breaks and advances are made in the tetraploid gene pool.
For my part, I don’t strictly agree with either side of this argument, or rather, I agree with each side somewhat. Perhaps my biggest disagreement with these sides is that I see no need for either side. I see no use for such black-and-white dualisms that in the end only limit everyone.
For the record, I find conversions useful, but I also recognize that the vast majority of conversions are made strictly because of the flower, and some of those conversions are not great plants. That is fine, but then an over-focus on such converted material can bring hosts of plant problems into the tetraploid gene pool (and this has happened before and will undoubtedly happen again).
Conversely, there are remarkable programs that have been developed through patient work within a lineage and have never incorporated much converted material. Both methods work and have merit. However, I would suggest that both methods, when used together - line breeding and the judicious use of converted materials - can have a broader, more balanced impact on a given program.
To begin with, line breeding is best done to establish a strong base, to bring together many desirable traits (including, perhaps especially, plant traits) to create a strong, reliable base to bring advanced materials (including converted materials) over. The establishment and use of a reliable base with known breeding value is almost essential to using conversion materials, especially where the conversion was made because of the flower and there may be lesser-quality plant traits to eliminate in those converted lines through judicious outcrossing and selection.
In this way, there is no need for there to be two camps in opposition, but rather, there can be one large community, with each individual playing their own role, in pursuit of improving the flower we all love, for the entire community. There is no one right method to breeding. There are many methods and there is a time, place, use and need for each of them.
Tuesday, December 13, 2016
...With Gratitude and Thanks
Looking Forward to 2017
This is a blog post I have long been planning to make, but life happens, one thing comes along and then another, and I often get distracted from writing all the things that come to mind. However, a recent conversation with a friend has prompted me to go ahead and make this post.
While speaking with a friend about daylilies, I was asked about my honest thoughts of the daylily community. My immediate answer was that I love the daylily and the daylily community. It was one of those immediate answers that requires no thought at all. We continued on with our conversation, discussing many aspects of our breeding programs, but the question I listed above left me thinking about this article that I have wanted to write to the entire daylily community.
The most important thing I want to convey is that I accept, approve of and full endorse whatever aspect of daylilies that any give person wants to focus on. Be that a home gardener with a few daylilies, serious collecting, growing for resale or breeding, I think we need you all. To speak directly to everyone interested in daylilies, but especially to breeders, to all breeders, I can only encourage you to proceed with whatever you are currently doing, whatever fills you with joy.
I joke often that there are currently more daylily breeders than there are registered daylily cultivars (which isn’t quite true, but is possibly close), so there is room for many, many directions to be looked into and pursued. The daylily world is large, vast and deeply diverse, both in terms of the many, many breeders and the many, many registered cultivars and species clones that are available to any person who wishes to breed daylilies. For every person who wishes to breed daylilies, for whatever reason or goal, there are likely to be daylilies from which that direction can be pursued.
I want to stress that in reading my blog posts, it is important to remember that their first purpose is to serve me as a public diary, where I am giving you glimpses into my process. It is important to understand that. My blogs are not written to serve as guidelines for your program, or as a criticism of any other programs, but rather to serve as guideposts for myself, my interests and criteria, guideposts in where I have come from and where I hope to go. If you find something in my writing that interests you, some method I use that you would like to experiment with or implement in your own program, I can only encourage you to do so, but if you already have an established program, I do not in any way mean to suggest you should drop any aspect of your program to adopt aspects of mine.
One service I hope to provide in exposing my own program development is to offer sound advice in established breeding techniques for those who are either just beginning a breeding program or who are looking for new techniques to enhance their current program. I draw heavily from my own experiences in a lifetime of breeding animals and plants, as well as from established scientific plant and animal breeding techniques and methods. I would never seek to ask anyone who is happy with their current program, their aims and focus, to change to match my ideas. Please always be aware of that.
So why do I not want you to adopt my practices, if I think they are sound and usable? Because I support your right to pursue your own dreams and to encourage diversity. With the many people who are breeding daylilies, there is simply room for every type of program. Some will focus on one thing while others focus on other areas, and some will focus on more than one single focus-point. Through that diverse focus, the many programs and directions, the overall gene pool of the domestic Hemerocallis is enhanced.
Now I will be the first to admit that I see some potential problems in the daylily world. One is the ‘follow the leader’ phenomena where one person uses a cultivar and is successful with it and then large numbers of breeders seem to jump on that bandwagon. Far too often, the latest-and-greatest-and-most-popular may have problems in spite of a near-mystically-treated break in the flower phenotype, and these problems can become very magnified in the domestic Hemerocallis gene pool when a single plant or family line is given heavy focus in many, many programs. This is similar to the ‘single sire’ phenomena known in many domestic animal breeding communities. This creates a narrowing of the gene pool and a reduction of the subsequent beneficial traits that other lines may offer.
Another problem is that far too many seem to only want to focus on the flower to the exclusion of the plant. Along with this, the use of intensive cultivation methods, intensive spraying of chemicals for any and all problems and use of extremely artificial environments all contribute to masking problems and to potentially concentrating those problems into the overall gene pool. While this can be a problem, it doesn’t have to be a major problem, nor does it have to become a weight around the neck of daylily breeders.
How do we avoid the pitfalls of these problems? By encouraging a diversity of programs that all work together to create a large and balanced gene pool within the domestic Hemerocallis population. So, for instance, I do not consider my program, with all its efforts to test plants for genetic strengths, to be a replacement for other programs, but as a complement to those programs. If I seek to encourage anyone to use any of my techniques, it is simply by providing information that can be used to create programs that are complementary to the ‘Only the Flower Matters’ (OTFM) programs.
I want to be crystal clear here, though. I do not disdain or disparage any ‘Flower Only’ programs. They are essential! They push the envelope in terms of flower phenotypes and where would we be without them? What I encourage is not an end to such programs. In fact, I can only express my deepest thanks and gratitude for all the breeders who are pushing that edge, constantly pushing the flower traits forward. I ONLY want them to continue. I use some of the flowers these programs produce. I will continue to watch for real breaks within these programs, and they will continue to occur, much to the delight of all.
However, as these flower breaks occur within programs where less emphasis is placed on such traits as the plant, survivability without intensive care, extreme hardiness or disease resistance, it will be incumbent on all the breeders who can work in a less singularly-focused program to apply their skills to taking these amazing flower-break genetics into hardener and more diverse lineages to stabilize them and assure both the continued existence and advances of these genes and to ensure they reach the regular gardening public in a form they can properly manage and enjoy, enhancing the reputation of the daylily and increasing its popularity with the general public.
In this way we increase the diversity of the daylily and increase its appeal. This is a group effort. None of us live in a vacuum and we each are impacted by and strengthened by each and every person who picks up some pollen and moves it around their daylily garden. As always, I only want to stress that the entire daylily community, all the many diverse directions and persons, are a part of the whole cloth of the daylily world and the continuation of the ever-expanding Hemerocallis gene pool.
In closing, I just want to thank you all simply for being yourselves, and doing what you do. Continue to do it! In the last six years of discovering what I want to work with, I have encountered many wonderful people and have enjoyed those interactions. I hope to get to know many of your better from this point forward, as I plan to be more available to the general daylily public. Throughout this preliminary stage of determining where my focus would go, I have been less social, purposefully, in order to not be too influenced by the directions of other breeders, so I could stay focused on the program I wanted to develop and what plants worked best for me to start that program. Now that I am at that point, I am excited to be in more contact with all the great daylily folks out there in the big, wide daylily world.