Tuesday, June 13, 2017

A Review of 2016 and Discussion of Future Directions

A Review of 2016 and Discussion of Future Directions


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.

Insect Predation Resistance

Spider Man

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. 

Solaris Symmetry

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.

Rust Resistance Screening

Ancient Elf

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.

H. fulva 'Korean'

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. 

Insider Trading

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.

Deer Predation

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.

Moving Forward

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.

Whale Tails

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.

Shattered Glass

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. 

Ida Mae Norris

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.

Tetra Siloam Medallion

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…

Mint Octopus

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. 

In Closing

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.

Alien Galaxy