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Thoughts on hybridizing (part 1)

  • Subject: [IGSROBIN] Thoughts on hybridizing (part 1)
  • From: "Roth, Barry" <BRoth@BROBECK.COM>
  • Date: Thu, 11 Apr 2002 16:58:09 -0700

With the recent discussion of articles on hybridizing, I thought I would
post a few of my experiences and opinions from an approximately ten-year
venture in breeding zonals, some years ago.  I'll put this in two separate
posts, and possibly add more later as ideas (or rants) come to mind.

This is a classic "your mileage may vary" topic, and it would be fun to hear
from growers whose experience is different from mine.  My project took place
in San Francisco, California, in a mild, Mediterranean climate, with plants
grown in unglazed clay pots in an unheated (and improvised) greenhouse and
plant frames.

Despite some of the caveats that follow, I encourage anyone who thinks he or
she might be interested to give it a try.  You'll learn a lot about your
plants, develop an appreciation for the work of breeders - professional and
amateur - down through the years, and have a good time doing it.

However, it's not about quick gratification.  With zonals, expect to wait a
year from sowing seed to seeing the first bloom.  In my cool San Francisco
greenhouse, I had the best seed set from pollinated flower heads in late
spring and early summer.  Sowing the seeds as soon as they were ripe, around
July, allowed them to germinate and put on some serious growth before the
cool, short days of winter, when growth became very slow.  Growth would
speed up again in the spring, and at some point then my seedlings would
flower.  Maybe breeders in other climates - or growing under lights - could
get a quicker turnaround.

The first year the seedlings tend to grow straight up with very little
lateral branching (although plants that are going to be good self-branchers
may show some side growth).  Do not pinch the lead bud - that will only
delay flowering.  Let the plant grow up until it makes an odd sort of split,
one side of which becomes the peduncle of the first flower head.

I tried to speed up flowering by taking top cuttings and rooting those; but
they did not flower any sooner than the undisturbed seedlings.

The time before first flowering is not wasted, because you can observe other
features of the plant, such as stature, under controlled conditions.  At
that time, you may be able to cull seedlings that clearly are not turning
out to be what you want.  For instance, if your goal is a "dark dwarf"
zonal, you can immediately cull full-statured seedlings.  They will not
become dark dwarfs later in life.  On the other hand, a character you want
to preserve may be genetically recessive and not appear in a
first-generation seedling.  Additional crosses (often back-crosses to one or
the other parent) may be necessary for the character to become manifest.


Barry Roth

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