Daylilies have been touted as the "perfect perennial" because they are beautiful, easy to grow and pests and diseases are not a big problem. All you really need is good drainage, sun for part of the day and an appreciation for the flowers you'll have for much of the summer. While many tried and true daylilies are quite inexpensive at $5-$20 a plant, new varieties can be as much as $350. You can create your own daylilies that rival the expensive ones by purchasing and cross-pollinating some of the fabulous inexpensive varieties known to have good fertility.
With thousands of beautiful daylilies to choose from, local nurseries can only carry a fraction of them. Tim Elbert, owner of Four Seasons Nursery, says he chooses unique daylilies with a repeat bloom pattern that succeed in our climate, such as "Black-Eyed Stella." Paul Stranberg, operating manager of Valley View Nursery, chooses daylilies that sold well in past years and bloom repeatedly all summer. Many daylilies are being hybridized with the "everblooming" gene because it is such a desirable trait.
Daylilies come either single or double and in different forms, such as narrow petaled spiders. Some singles are so full that the petals overlap and many have deeply ruffled edges so their flowers look like hoop skirts with lacy petticoats beneath. Doubles look like pom-poms and many varieties have big dark eyes, picotee edges or are wonderfully fragrant. Whichever kind you love, there are a few things to consider before purchasing some for hybridization.
Choose plants with taller flower scapes since they tend to show off the flowers better than those that are so short that they hide in the foliage. Look at the branching pattern and the typical number of buds. Branching that is very close together will keep the big ruffled daylilies from opening nicely and many buds mean more flowers. Make sure the plants have a good record for fertility. Some daylilies like "Ed Brown" or "Ida's Magic" are used in many famous cultivars because of their great genes and good fertility. With the many varieties to choose from, the possibilities are endless!
It's not hard to hybridize your own plants, but you need to know the number of chromosomes (ploidy) your daylilies have. Daylilies are either diploid, having 11 chromosomes, or tetraploid with 22, and they don't pollinate each other. Plant labels should give ploidy information. If you're trying this with an unnamable plant from your own garden, tetraploids usually have sturdier flower stalks and thicker petals than their diploid cousins.
Some varieties are pollen sterile, so do some research to get the best parents. Ask at the nursery, and if they don't know, RoyCroft Daylily Nursery and Daylily World are two reputable companies that have good information and can be found on the Internet.
Cross-pollination is done by simply snapping off the stamen on one flower variety and rub the ripe pollen on its anther on top of the pistil (stigma) on the flower of another variety (see illustration). Ripe pollen is fluffy and releases easily. Do this early in the day before temperatures rise. At 90 degrees or above, pollen "dies" and no fertilization can take place. The night before you plan on pollinating, lightly cover the daylilies with remay or a paper bag to prevent bees from stealing your pollen or fertilizing your plants. After pollination, re-cover the plants until evening. True to their name, each daylily flower blooms for one day, so it takes some observing to figure out which buds will be open for pollination the next day. Mark the base of your pollinated bud with a colored permanent marker or hang a small tag on it for recording purposes.
A seedpod will start to form within a few days if pollination was a success. Leave the pod undisturbed until it turns tan and starts to split open, about six weeks. Harvest the shiny black seeds from the pod and store them in a plastic baggy or envelope and put them in the refrigerator crisper for about three weeks. Many of the dormant varieties need to be chilled to sprout. After chilling, plant the seeds 1/4 to 1/2-inch deep in damp, seed-starting medium. Give them very bright light and keep the soil damp, not soggy. Soon you will see grass-like spears growing out of the soil. You have just created new daylily cultivars that will bloom within one to three years. It's a great thrill to see the first bloom on each plant!
Even though seedlings may have the same parents, their blooms can look totally different from each other. When propagation is this simple, and the results so surprising, it's not hard to understand why thousands of varieties exist. Like any proud parent, you can name your daylilies. Make sure to register any superior ones with the Hemerocallis Society. Check out their site at http://www.daylilies.org/ for directions. Happy propagating.