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Want to broaden your rose horizons and have a LOT of fun? If you grow roses and have a minimum of time and curiosity, you can increase your expertise and deepen your appreciation of this most fabulous of flowers by learning how to hybridize.
It’s really rather simple to do, and it doesn’t require any special treatment. If you have a Modern Roses or any other book which lists parentages of commercial roses, a study of what crosses have made which rose can begin to give you an idea of what it possible. The first rose listed is the one used to produce the seed, or the “mother”, while the second listed is the one whose pollen was used, or the “father”. So, in the parentage PEACE X QUEEN ELIZABETH, the pollen of QUEEN ELIZABETH was placed on the female parts of PEACE where it fertilized the ovary and produced seeds. You may create many seedlings which resemble commercially available varieties, and most of them will probably be a little, if not very, inferior to those which are available. But each new seedling will be yours alone, and you may just hit upon the lucky seedling which is different and even better than just about anything else on the commercial market.
Think back to which roses in your garden regularly require dead-heading to prevent them from forming hips. They may not produce viable seed, but chances are better that they will if they are consistently yielding hips on their own. It isn’t required that one use only those roses which set seed by themselves, but your chances will probably be a little better. Also, those roses which may make hips by themselves stand a better chance of having good, fertile pollen as well. Most self-set hips are the result of pollen from that flower falling on its own pistil as the stamen fold over it, rather than it being carried in from another plant by insects or the wind. Take a little time to study which roses form these hips without help, and consider beginning with crosses of these roses first.
I am drawn to the unusual and have long studied what made those roses I lusted after. I began collecting the parents of the really interesting varieties to build “stud stock” to work with in breeding. You may have the seed of such a stud plant right now in your garden. Look at your plants with a new vision. If your goal is to create a rose with the high-centered, exhibition bloom, determine which ones in your garden have that characteristic. Look at the parentage of the roses you find attractive then use some imagination to settle on a plan for combining the genes from the two varieties to create what you seek. If you are really lucky, some of the roses in your garden will already possess the traits you want and will be some of the roses which set seed without assistance. Once you have your curiosity aroused, and your eyes refocused toward your goal, begin teaching yourself the mechanics of the adventure.
Roses are rather sophisticated flowers. Instead of requiring male and female flowers like so many fruits and vegetables do, one rose flower contains both male and female parts, so one flower has the ability to create new varieties. Look at a fresh bud just beginning to open. The green leaf-like outer coverings are the sepals. In moss roses, these are what carry the moss or the elongated, decorative “crested” growth. Just inside the sepals are the petals. These are probably the reason we bought the rose in the first place. Gently pull off the sepals and begin pulling off the petals. Once the last petal is removed, you will probably be looking at the stamen tipped with pods containing the pollen. These are called the anthers. The stamen are the thread-like growths growing in a ring around the base of the petals. Inside the ring of stamen, in the center of the bloom, is the pistil. In order for sexual reproduction to occur, pollen from the anthers has to fall or be placed on the pistil, fertilizing the eggs that produce the seed. It’s that simple. To insure what you want is produced is the cross of varieties you want, you need to begin with a fresh bud just beginning to unfurl its petals. Then by carefully pulling open the sepals and removing the petals, you expose the stamen. A small pair of sharp, pointed scissors is quite useful in cutting off the stamen with their anthers. If you wish to use the pollen on the pistil of another rose, you will need to collect it. Baby food jars are excellent containers for this purpose, but just about any small container that allows you enough room to get your fingers in it will work well. Carefully cut the stamen off the base of the flower. You want to leave all of the thread-lie growths in the very center of the bloom. These are not part of the stamen. Each one is connected to a seed embryo in the hip. The tops of the threads of the pistil usually, but not always, end in a swollen growth that will become sticky in a day or two after the stamen are removed. This sticky condition allows the pollen to adhere and fertilization to take place.
Once you have collected the pollen in your container, you will find it faster to cure it by taking it into a warm, dry area and spreading it on a sheet of paper. This exposes the anthers to the air and allows all of the moisture to evaporate, making the pollen fall from them. White paper makes it easier to see the pollen once it falls. Here’s a helpful hint. Not all pollen is yellow. If you look closely, you will find just about any color from near white, through yellows and gold tones to browns, reds and shades of rust, and even near black. Ralph Moore passed on the suggestion that some varieties will not release their pollen easily, and that more of it can be obtained by grinding the stamen and anthers in a mortar and pestle. It may take a bit of practice pouring the ground material from the bowl of the mortar into the baby food jar, but it gets easier with experience.
Check your pistils a day or two after you have removed the stamen. They should be getting sticky and receptive to the pollen. By shaking the baby food jar gently side to side, you allow the freed pollen to stick to the sides of the jar, making it easier to see. Some authors suggest the use of a camel hair brush to spread the pollen. Guess what? Your fingers work just fine! Swirl your finger tip around the sides of the jar collecting the pollen on it, and then gently rub it into the sticky tops of the pistil threads. Watch a bee work the pistil. It does not seem gentle in its endeavor as it furiously gathers its pollen. You do not have to treat the pistil as if it is that fragile. You do not want to break the bloom off the stem, nor do you want to smash the pistil, but you will be surprised at how much massaging it will accept without damage. You want to be sure to work as much pollen into it as you can to be sure that every possible seed will be fertilized. Remember that each seed will be as different as people, so to increase your chances of getting what you are hoping for, you need as many seeds as you can produce. Once you are comfortable that you have pollinated the pistil well, and you are about to use another variety’s pollen for another flower, just wipe your finger well on a cloth (pollen may stain, so think twice about wiping off on your pant’s leg).
Just as in gardening, good record keeping in breeding roses is a MUST! All you need do is to record your parent roses on a page of a note book and keep track of whether you used it as a seed (mother) or pollen (father) parent. You will want to remember which roses set good seed, which germinated well, and which passed on the traits you set out to combine.
Labeling your crosses is a simple matter. For around $2, many stores offer string tags. Avery Marking Tags, model #11062, are available in 100, 1 ¾” x 1 1/32” tags in a plastic hanging package. So, for around $2, you can label 100 pollinated blooms. Write your cross on the tag with a #2 pencil, and simply slip the string loosely around the stem. It will blow back and forth in the wind, and it will get wet, but the tag will remain intact and legible long enough to be useful. The only two problems I have encountered with them are the well-meaning, human helpers who remove the tags because they think I don’t want them there, and snails. Snails will eat paper as it was originally plant material, but they don’t begin at the edge and eat it like a leaf. They eat the surface with your information written on it. So, if your tags begin looking as if the finish has been rubbed or scraped off, get some snail bait and go on a hunt. Remember, snails are cannibalistic, so don’t step on one where you don’t want more. Throwing them into the street works quite nicely.
Don’t be afraid to experiment. Stretch your imagination and make the most outlandish crosses you can fathom. Your chances of actually pushing the edges of the rose envelope improve when you select parent roses that no one has used before. Improved disease resistance, unusual colors or combination of colors, better levels of fragrance and even different fragrances are only a few of the potential possibilities that may result from your creativity. Few people will beat a path to your door unless your mousetrap is better, or at least, different from anyone else’s.
If your efforts are successful, and the roses cooperate, you will notice the hips beginning to swell in just a few weeks. Just leave then alone to ripen until the stems begin to yellow or take on the ripe color of the hips you have previously seen on the variety. As this will take time, there is plenty of opportunity to get out and enjoy the roses while waiting for your new breeding adventure to ripen. Then there is time to prepare the next article on “WHAT DO I DO WITH THEM NOW?”
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