Posts tagged #Growing daffodils from seed

DAFFODIL LUST IV: The Waiting..........................................

About half of the Daffodil seeds from my first year’s breeding experiments germinated and grew last winter, including 3 out of 8 Young Love seeds.  The plants seemed healthy enough.  They grew one narrow leaf each in a flat of soil mix in the greenhouse maturing little bean sized bulbs.  The leaves turned yellow in late spring and then brown, wilting down for the summer sleep.  By all accounts, Daffodils take a long time from seed to flower, so I have a wait ahead of me until they are ready to expose their pretty faces to the sun the wind the rain the bees and the bugs.

This past blooming season I pollinated yet more daffodil flowers and now have over 400 seeds to show for some minor and mostly enjoyable efforts.  I used a lot of pollen from cultivars that I really like, but I was not as selective in regards to the seed parents.  I figured there are two basic approaches to this and other plant breeding, careful and sloppy.  I have little doubt that an approach using carefully selected stock, keeping precise records, using durable labels, researching the fitness or unfitness of the parents for breeding, and learning to select and breed for desirable genetic traits could greatly increase my chances of ending up with really great offspring.  That approach however, sounds about as fun as waiting in line at a bank.  I’m sure it’s loads of fun for someone, but  I’m not a person that enjoys record keeping overly much. Record keeping and the like are tools that I use to the extent that they are needed, or probably somewhat less than the extent to which they are needed; appreciate it I do, but enjoy it I do not.   The other basic approach, and the one I’m currently favoring, is that of sloppy promiscuity and minimal attention to planning, details and after care.  You can’t eat daffodils, and I have lots of other projects requiring study time and mental energy, so I’m liking the casual approach for my daffodil breeding.  (Edit:  This article about daffodil breeder Ron Scamp says that flower form comes from the seed parent and color from the pollen parent.  It also says that perianth (petal) colors are hard to cross, but corona colors (the trumpet) are easier to cross.  I don't think that's too much information to kill my buzz, so I'll be experimenting accordingly:)

Daffodils are easy enough to pollinate in general.  Some of them are sterile or produce very little or no pollen, but from my experiments so far, most of them appear to be fertile.  It takes very little time to run around dabbing some pollen here and there, so I don’t worry about who is or isn’t fertile or sterile, or just plain not in the mood.  I didn’t even mark the pollinated flowers, but simply went back in early summer to look for fat seed pods.  It seems as though Daffodils are almost never pollinated naturally in this environment, so any seeds that form are almost certainly the results of intentional crosses.  A few of the flowers pollinated formed no seed.  Whether the failures were due to sterile pollen, sterile stigmas or poor timing I don’t know.  I had no success at all with the small narcissus types like Minor Monarch, Grand Primo, Golden Dawn and Chinese Sacred Lily, but most others produced at least a seed or two.  I probably spent less than two hours to pollinate and then collect those hundreds of seeds this year.  Even if my germination rate doesn’t improve over 50% I’m happy enough with those numbers.  I do think that I could get more seeds per pod by pollinating the same flower several days in a row, but I’m not going to lose any sleep over it.

Daffodils are generally easy to grow.  Under our environmental conditions, I imagine that I could probably take my little bean sized bulbs, put them into barely better than field conditions this fall and expect most of them to survive with only minor intervention.  They might not grow to flowering size nearly as quickly as they would with some pampering, but the point is that they will take no extraordinary care to survive and come to flowering age.  The bulbs will probably get a small space in the garden for at least a year to increase the bulb size and therefore the probability of survival in the field.  The ease with which Daffodils are pollinated and grown, coupled with the fact that I’m breeding for fun rather than for profit or fame, form the foundation of my new low input Daffodil breeding program.  So what if I don’t know who the parents of my illegitimate Daffodils are?  So what if they take longer to flower because I don’t pamper them?  So what if I have fewer awesome flowers and more ugly ducklings?  This is about investment and return, not just how much investment and how much return, but about what kind of investment for what kind of return.  Instead of fussing with records and tags which may take as much or more time than the breeding and growing, I’m opting to produce more offspring with less and more enjoyable effort.  After all, we reap the experience of our labor as well as the fruits.  More life, less paper!

I’m hoping that it will take me only a few hours a year to come up with a couple hundred seedlings and a little more time to get them growing somewhere the following year.  I’m hoping for 4 to 6 hours a year for 200 or more seedlings each of which holds the promise of unique genetics.  I’m thinking of dedicating an area in one of the orchards to be a treasure chest of daffodil seedlings.  If I plant more every year, I could have as many as a couple hundred new flowers to check out each season.  Once they start blooming, I reap the pleasure and adventure of seeing more of those seedlings come into flower every year resplendent in all their ravishing beauty,  mutated weirdness or stunning mediocrity.  And even if most are plain or unsightly, it seems like there must remain a pretty decent chance that if I add more every year I could just end up with a flower worthy of the attention of someone besides me.  I doubt I’ll be collecting any Daffodil breeding awards, but I’m sure my flowers will make someone pause or smile.  I also get to name them which has to be half the fun at least!  OMG, I can't wait.  I think I'll start a list now.  Maybe I’ll change my mind and eventually approach the process with more care.  I’ll admit that a few pieces of information about the dominance of genetic traits could prove useful, but I can pick that up anytime along the way and for now the unmethodical approach looks pretty good and more importantly, feels fun instead of stressful.

So the Daffodil breeding blogging saga comes to a pause.  Hopefully in a few years I’ll be posting pictures of my motley collection of bastard daffodil seedlings.  In the meantime, I don’t feel particularly impatient since my investment has become minimal.  I hope the rest of you can stand the suspense though. RELATED POSTS:




Daffodil Lust part III, the Seedling...


Fertilize me...

Having fallen in love with a glossy catalogue photo of Young Love, a fresh yet sensuous daffodil, pollinated her stigmas with who knows what combination of mongrel pollen and then carefully collected the 8 resulting seeds from two flowers it was time to wait for fall planting time. I kept Young Love’s seeds, along with the other 60 odd seeds I collected from my sloppy daffodil pollination experiments close at hand. At first I was really excited about the seeds and left them out on the desk drying in small twisty tied bundles of spun row cover material. The material allowed the seeds to dry, but kept them from being scattered. After a while, when the hassle of having them all over my desk outweighed the fetish value of looking at them a lot, I put seeds in a special little catch all basket on the desk where I could still sort of see them. Over time I became excited about or distracted with other things and stopped thinking about my seeds. I only noticed them once in a while when I needed something else out of the basket and was like “oh yeah, awesome!” That seems just as well since I had to wait a few months before planting them. Not to worry, come fall, my excitement was renewed.


In early fall I put the seeds out in the greenhouse. I did a little reading on propagation of daffodil seeds. Over all it seemed that they would grow easily enough, although some of the methods of propagation seemed overly complicated. I opted to plant them about 1 inch deep in flats. I used a technique I sometimes favor for special seeds with is as follows:

*Fill a planting flat about half full with rich flat soil made mostly of sifted compost.

*Follow the flat mix with a 1/2 inch or less layer of sand. (could also be 50/50 sand and peat, but I generally don’t find it necessary to add peat to propagation sand, though it will hold water longer if you do. The seeds can be laid carefully just where you want them on the sand.

*Cover with more sand to the chosen seed planting depth, in my case 1 inch.

This system offers a moist but well drained environment for the seeds with plenty of opportunity for the exchange of air yet with fewer of the moulds, bacteria and critters that are found in the composty flat mix. There is a tradition of planting seeds in sand or sand and peat for germination, but they have to be transplanted out soon after sprouting up because they have no nutrients to thrive on. When the seeds in the stratified flats strike roots, they hit pay dirt very soon and are off to a good start without transplanting. Sown in the flats, labels in place and watered in, there was nothing to do but wait.

At first I was patient. But I had started some wild Camas, wild Diogenes’ Lantern, Naked Ladies’ and Tiger Lily seeds at the same time. When the Camas came up I was stoked! I had been watching them all in anticipation and was starting to wonder if they would all fail to emerge. First just one Camas seedling, then more, then the Diogenes’ Lantern began coming up. Then the Naked Ladies... then finally the Tiger Lilies.... but no Daffodils :( I began to check more frequently. I started to doubt that my methods were adequate and wondered if maybe the seeds had rotted. For all I could know, they lay under the sand bed as hollowed out shells or worse yet, shells full of putrid rotting slime that had once held hidden promise of a long life of surpassing beauty. I reminded my self that daffodils are pretty tough plants in general and that they have probably evolved to tolerate these conditions just like any other plant, if not better. They just take a long time right? Maybe I watered them too much in spite of the well drained conditions I gave them. My faith in simple propagation methods was slipping. I resisted the temptation to dig in and have a look.


Every time I was remotely near the greenhouse I would go in and look. I had seeded some Apples too, so I had two exciting seed projects to anticipate. I scanned the surface of the sand carefully for any green tips that might be poking through. I tried viewing from different angles. I moved any suspicious lumps of sand in the case that there might be a shoot just below pushing the surface up trying to get out. I blew on the surface to remove any lose material that might be obscuring the green tip of a seedling. Then I blew harder wishing I could blow a layer of the sand off, but alas it was too wet, too compacted, it wasn’t budging. I thought about removing a thin layer of sand since small bits of moss has started to grow and lock the particles together... but that might damage the tips of any seedlings that were coming up. I thought about spraying the soil with water to remove a layer of sand, but ditto, and besides then I would be over watering and they might rot. Aaaagghhhhh!! It was like christmas when you’re a kid.



Finally, one day there was a green tip in an auxiliary pot of seeds! It wasn’t one I was excited about, but at least there was hope and they weren’t all dead! Now I checked even more often, sometimes three times a day. Scanning carefully... I’m not sure a day has gone by when I don’t check, but it’s been slow going. After the first one, more came up but they took their time about it. One came up every few days at the best and just one in a row of many seeds. Finally about 6 varieties were up, with no sign of life in the Young Love row. wahhhhh!!!! I was out of ideas to speed up the process so I had to be content to scrutinize the soil surface. It’s amazing how fast they come up when they do. Two nights ago, after having checked already once in the morning, there it was by the ghastly LED light of my headlamp, a tiny speck of green in front of the Young Love tag! I probably uttered some happy noises and wiggled around or something. You’d think I could rest in peace now, but no, I probably looked at them three times yesterday to check for new plants



I know, its ridiculous, But it’s nice to have something to be excited about which holds some promise for the future, even if it might be nothing more than a small population of peachy colored and probably buck toothed and lopsided flowers with unevenly split cups. I’m sort of looking forward to getting over it and just letting them grow on till they are ready for their coming out party. I will no doubt go through this process again in a few years when they approach flowering age, only worse. Spreading apart the leaves to see if there might be a flower bud tip down in the there, just enough to get a good look without breaking any leaves. For now though I will probably check them obsessively for a bit longer until excitement wears thin and enough seedlings are up for me to say that the endeavor was more or less a success, which is not the case now with 10 seedlings up out of 70. (I checked last night, make that 11:) Apparently Daffodil seeds can lie dormant for a year or two, but I’m hoping of course that mine won’t. That could really be a nail biter.

Now for some real waiting! Wow, I mean really, three to five years from seed is a long time. I’m glad I’m old enough that it doesn’t seem like an eternity. But, if I pollinate a few flowers a year and with a small amount of effort, I can have new flower varieties to evaluate every spring. I guess you’ll hear from me again when it’s time to shallowly judge Young Love’s offspring based almost solely on physical beauty. Until then, the narcissus are blooming so it’s about time to start pollinating again- Woohoo!

The earliest narcissus daffodils are already blooming here in February. If you have more than one kind of daffodil variety, why not cross pollinate a few and see what happens? Just snip off a stamen that is releasing powdery grains of pollen and rub it gently on the stigma (the little center thingy) of another variety. Repeat for a couple of days in the late morning. What better to do while drinking your coffee in the morning. If you want to keep track, tie on a tag with the name of the varieties using the convention Girl Plant X Boy Plant. Collect the seeds when the capsules begin to dry and open, but before they open all the way and drop the seeds. Let the seeds dry thoroughly before storing in a dry cool place.