Making a Daylily Cross

Daylilies are some of the most beautiful and carefree plants in the garden.  They come in many colors, sizes and patterns.  They withstand heat and drought.  They are even edible!
They are plants that do not come true from seed. This means every seed produces a new and unique plant that may or may not look anything like its parent.
And that’s where the fun starts.  How about trying your hand at hybridizing this year?  It’s quite easy and you never know what you might get.  The 3 most common crossing types are:
1. pretty on pretty – pick two varieties in your garden that you really like
2. trait on trait – flower shape, height, number of blooms – your choice
3. intentional – using plant genetic and science to attempt to bring out desirable attributes

Daylily flower with anther and stigma labeled

How to find the Anther and Stigma on a Daylily

Making a cross is quite simple, take the pollen from one variety and apply it to the stigma of another.  Then wait and see if the mating was successful.  If yes, there will be a pod developing at the base of the flower.  Daylily pregnancy takes about 50 days from fertilization until seeds are ripe and ready for harvesting.

Iris Seedpod First Aid

broken iris stem with seedpod

Maybe you tried your hand at pollinating some of your iris or maybe the bees went to work.  Either way, your iris flowers have faded away and there’s seedpods in the making. Like a proud parent, you’re admiring the pods and imagining growing the seeds into beautiful new plants.
iris stem set into the ground
Oh no!  You see a broken off stalk.  Compost.  Goodbye dreams of spectacular flowers. Worry not, here’s what you can do to save the day and let the pods continue on to maturity.

Trim the bottom off the stalk and insert firmly about 2-3 inches deep into the soil.  You’re done!  Really!  Watch the pods mature and collect the seeds once the pods have ripened.

Iris Seedpod

Developing Iris Seedpod

How to divide and plant Iris

The first thing you should know about dividing iris is that iris are tough. Most iris can withstand an amazing amount of neglect and rough handling. This is not to say you should abuse your iris, but you also don’t need to worry too much when you are working with them.

Most planting guides recommend that you divide iris about 3-4 weeks after they have finished blooming. There’s a high likelihood that they will not bloom the year after you divide and transplant them. They are just settling into their new home; you didn’t kill them!

Iris grow from rhizomes (the solid part between the leaves and the roots) . Each iris rhizome will bloom only once – and this rhizome is largest right after the flowers are done blooming. When your iris are getting crowded, you can often see the rhizomes, sticking out of the ground a little. The fact tIris plant after bloominghe rhizomes are so shallow makes them really easy to dig up. The easiest way is to use a fork — simply insert the fork near the edge of the rhizome and wiggle it around a little and it will pop up easily.

Brush the dirt off so you can see the rhizome and have an idea of what you are working with. Some guides suggest that you’ll need to get out the hose and thoroughly clean the rhizome. There’s no harm in doing that, but it won’t make a bit of difference if you skip this step.
trimming iris rootsTrim back the leaves to about 3 inches.  You can cut them into any shape you want, straight across or fans, even zigzag! Then trim all the roots to about an inch long below the rhizome and

Cut or break off your baby iris rhizomes from the center ‘mother’.  If there are no new babies on the mother yet, plant the mother.
Most likely there will be many more iris then you have space in the old location, either plant them in a new spot or share the extras with your friends and neighbors. Baby iris ready to plant
To plant, insert your rhizomes up to its neck into the ground and water them in. You should not be able to see any part of the rhizome sticking up.
I know you’ve heard that the rhizomes should be above the ground and ‘be kissed by the sun’.  If you plant them too high, they are much more likely to #1 fall over and uprooted on the new roots they are developing and #2 dry out and die.  Pretty much all iris nurseries and hybridizers from Canada to Australia plant their iris ‘to the neck’.

Newly planted iris

Newly planted iris

 

 

Success with Helleborus Seeds

If you look underneath your big plant and see all the volunteer babies, you’d think it would be quite easy to collect the seeds and plant them in a container or a new location and end up with lots of new plants shortly.  It’s not quite that simple but it’s also not as difficult to get the seeds to sprout as some people will have you believe.

The challenge lies in giving the seeds just the ‘right’ environment as they require stratification. There’s lots of info about so many weeks of warm, moist and so long in cold, moist to induce germination.  You can get as scientific about the process as you like.  But I like EASY.  So here’s my EASY method for sprouting hellebore seeds.

Brick and helleborus seedsYou will need one brick for every 15 to 20 seeds. Collect the seeds when they are ripe and fresh, usually sometime in May for most locations. Plant your seeds as es soon as possible after purchasing or collecting, you’ll want them in the ground by the end of June at the latest. Select your new planting spot. Just rough up the soil a little and sprinkle your seeds.  Top them with the flat side of your brick.  You’re done!
helleborus seeds in soil
The brick will hold the seeds in place, provide just the proper environment both moisture and temperature wise to allow your seeds to do their thing.  In warmer climates without snow cover, lift-off the brick in mid-January of the year following planting.  brick on top of helleborus seedsYou may have tiny little seedlings that are flat like pancakes, don’t worry, they’ll straighten right up.  In colder areas with snow cover, whenever your snow has melted, lift the brick once a week and check for seedlings. As soon as you see babies, remove the brick.

It will take about 3-4 years before your new babies will be large enough to bloom and each baby will be a new plant that may or may not resemble its parent.  Here’s a picture of one of my seedlings that I really like a lot:

My burgundy  rim helleborus seedling

My burgundy rim helleborus seedling

Starting Herb Seeds

Herbs add color, fragrance, and texture to the garden — not to mention flavor and variety to the kitchen. Many are perennials and few require special care.  In my time as a haphazard gardener, I’ve grown herbs almost every year. Lots of them have died, due to neglect and/or ignorance, but I have finally hit on a method that works for me. Growing herbs from seed is the most economical way to go, but if you find seeds challenging you might be reluctant. Maybe my method will work for you, too.

Rosemary is probably my favorite herb, but thyme, oregano, sage, tarragon, cilantro, basil, and parsley are also usually in my beds somewhere. The viciously cold weather last winter seems to have killed my rosemary, so I’ll be starting a new one this year.

Last summer.

Last summer.

 

This spring.

This spring.

The oregano did just fine.

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So did the sage, which was surprising because last year was its first year in the ground. I thought it would still be tender.

IMG_20140421_101041

I tried, unsuccessfully, to grow rosemary from seed for a number of years. It would usually germinate just fine, then whither away. The plant that died last year was about four feet tall and absolutely luscious. I would touch it every time I walked by to enjoy its piney scent. The trick for me was to keep it in a pot for a few years.

That has turned out to be the best way for me to grow a number of perennial herbs — get them started in a pot, and bring the pot in over the winter for 2-3 years. Then, when it is firmly established, it seems to do better planted in the ground.

The method I use will probably never be endorsed by any expert, but it has consistently worked:

  1. Fill a pot (any pot with drainage) with potting soil.
  2. Sprinkle some seeds around.
  3. Put the pot outside.
  4. Keep the soil just damp.
  5. Start picking leaves off to use for cooking as soon as there are leaves to pick.
  6. Bring the pot in for the winter.
  7. After 2-3 winters, transplant to the garden.

Of course, some herbs, like basil and parsley work better as annuals, and I just plant new seeds each year for them. Others, like mint and chamomile can be invasive. I don’t mind if they start spreading, but you may prefer to keep them in containers rather than transplanting them into your garden.

Growing herbs from seed is inexpensive, and can have big rewards. It’s certainly worth trying if you haven’t.

 

Turn old bottles into plant markers

Some ideas are just asking to be shared more! When I saw a post from Lorilee at Cackleberry Cottage about using wine bottles as row markers in the garden, I immediately thought about giving new life to all types of old bottles by recycling them into iris and daylily plant markers.
Being short on empty wine bottles, I used an empty beer bottle instead.  I wrote the name of my plant on the bottle with a pink, waterproof chalk pen, nail polish and a black paint pen.  Maybe I am a bit compulsive? I do like the pink chalk pen the best but only time will tell which method has the most staying power.  To help the bottle stay put, I pushed a 40D nail into the ground and anchored the bottle upside down over the nail head.

Bottle used as Plant Marker

Vertical Gardening: Up. Up. Up

There are lots of reasons to try vertical gardening. The most frequently mentioned is space, but even if you have plenty of room you might want to try it for aesthetic reasons. A vertical garden creates an attractive screen, a focal point similar to a painting on a wall, or shade.

Your imagination is the only limit when it comes to vertical gardening. One of the first times I encountered it was in reading Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew. As the title suggests, space was the main concern in that book. Bartholomew lays out instructions for growing a number of vegetable garden crops vertically, including watermelon! He uses nets for the melons.

Some plants must be grown vertically for best results. Peas, cucumbers, some varieties of beans, and plenty of other vegetables — not to mention the many types of climbing roses —  require poles, stakes, or trellises. Our fence row is decorated with gorgeous (if invasive) morning glories every fall.

My own current efforts at vertical gardening include a grape arbor:

grape arborsome peas on an old cast iron gate (the pea plants are still tiny):

pea trellisand a structure for a sweet autumn clematis that appeared magically growing up a tree in my front yard last year (I haven’t moved the plant yet — just put together the structure):

clematis trellisBesides an indulgence of my unpredictable whims, all of these vertical structures are simply to provide interest in the garden. I worry about having too many plants that are roughly the same height — or the same color, or that bloom at the same time. (Sigh. The complications of haphazard gardening.)

Belle uses succulents in a really interesting vertical structure. The wooden structure creates a frame, and the succulents are a variety of color and texture. The whole thing looks like a work of art.

Regardless of how much space you have, you may want to try your hand at growing some plants up and up. The most important thing is to make sure your structure is sturdy enough to withstand the pull and tug of your plants. Before we built the grape arbor, our grape vines pulled down the flimsy gate they were growing on.

How to pollinate an Iris

Plant Sex.

Now that I have your attention, this post is all about taking a little pollen from one plant and dabbing it on the receiving part of another in the hopes of creating a unique new plant.

It’s essential to be able to identify the reproductive parts of a plant, and for an iris that’s not so easy.  Here’s your road map to get started. Find the beards. They look fluffy and inviting. Think of them as the red carpet, leading towards the door #1, the stamen and door #2, the stigmatic lip.  Those two structures are the necessary ones for the iris mating dance.

If you like to try your hand at hybridizing this spring, it’s easy.  Remove the stamen from one variety and rub it into or onto the stigmatic lip of another.  Wait  for about 3 days, if your efforts were successful, the base of the flower will start swelling and growing, eventually forming a fat, oval shaped balloon. Should your stalk break off the plant, don’t worry, just stick the stem into the ground and your pod will continue to mature! It will take about 6-7 weeks for the seeds to be ready for harvesting.

reproductive parts of an iris