Educate and Prepare Yourself
As I indicated in the October 2002 Seedpod (publication of AHS) and on my in other articles on this site, Roberta and I started our venture into hybridizing by first picking the minds of the foremost people in that endeavor at that time---Harry Goulding, Gordon Fore, Norman Brubaker and Doc Hoffman (Dr. Jack) to name a few.
Our efforts made us the proud parents Anna Elizabeth, Butterscotch Sundae, Herm Geller and Mt Shasta and Great White --the only true whites cvs until Byron Metz. Also, Topaz Glory and Ms Liberty which together with All Aglow every beginner should have in his garden. These plants are still being grown by local growers.
If you cannot get these plants, look in the Seedpod to see who is showing blooms every week. Ask them for their favorite male and female plants and get these plants, perhaps the bloom is not a show stopper but if it makes a good parent get the plant for your garden. In other words, during the summer show season collect these likely parent plants---give them a lot of TLC before the hybridizing season starts around October 15th in Florida.
In Florida, we hybridize until the middle of April when our humidity zooms into the 80s. Some years ago, a group of hybridizers tried 1500 crosses in the summer months and got zilch---that told us something. My personal feeling is that the winter months are less humid and the bloom stays on the bush longer, and although closed it allows the pollen to travel down the staminal column to the ovary.
Hybridizing is very well covered in the Hibiscus Manual and can be obtained by contacting:
Mr. Will Gaudet
While you are awaiting the opening of the season, take out the manual and familiarize yourself with the reproduction organs of the hibiscus bloom so that at the next meeting when your speaker mentions stigma pads and pollen sacs you will know what he is talking about.
After the first Nor'easter about the middle of October, you can go to work hybridizing. You will need to go to Office Depot and get some stringed price tags, 1x2 inches and a box of brown stamp envelops about the same size. I believe stamp collectors use them. This equipment may be used many times by crossing out the previous entrees. When you make a cross, mark down the name of the female and affix the tag on the stem of the flower. If a leaf is below the flower stem, incorporate it in the tag.
Finer Points of Pollinating
There are five stigma pads on the female bloom---generally in the morning the pollen you deposit on the stigma pads is clearly visible to the eye and yes you may use the same pollen parent more than one time. Turn the parent a little each time you deposit pollen as long as it is visible to the eye. As the day goes on, the pollen drys and while still visible to the eye when applied, takes are rare. If you have a male you want to use and the pollen sacs are of a variety that does not open until late in the day, I have snipped off the flower and impaled it on a toothpick---put on a Styrofoam block in the garage overnight and used the pollen next morning.
Another thing, if you like a particular bloom as a male parent--be sure you plant it on the east side of your garden-where it will get the morning sun and be ready to perform for you. Now for the flowers that are difficult to work with, steer clear of them for hybridizing--one of the famous flowers Ross Estey, had a staminal column a mile long and I do not think ever produced a successor---stay away from exceptionally long stamens.Doubles, if you are able to find a staminal column, are very difficult to work with as females. Of my almost 300 registered crosses, only about a half dozen or so involved doubles--Prima Ballerina, Pro Legato, Ann Elizabeth-- are about all as females. If you are a beginner hybridizer, I recommend sticking with singles.
Have a Goal
Another thing I was taught was to always have a goal- don't be a pollen duster. When I started showing a popular bloom, it was called Mini Skirt --a bright red with white dots- a real show stopper. As I looked around at other blooms, I decided to try hybridizing for a brown with white spots---that was 25 years and a couple of thousand blooms ago and still no brown and white miniskirt.
Tenacity is a virtue when hybridizing. Give yourself three years when starting out. Only about 20% of your crosses will take during the first year and as you learn your blooms, you will have more success each year.
Do not allow your hobby to become a chore. Get your significant other involved and they can do some of the crosses that were not ready when you had to leave for the office---or to wet a line. One other thing I found was contrary to what I have heard, the common yard varieties do not set seed. If they do, their progeny will be red. If you do not have enough plants to hybridize, ask your neighbor if you can use his garden.
I had a neighbor who was retired and he would check out my garden after I had gone to work and proceed to use his ready males on my plants. He used a blue pen to mark his crosses. He showed me a trick you might find useful: he would cut off the stamen and put them in his mouth while hybridizing (to the left was Herm Geller, middle All Aglow, right Lily Torbert -- which I have lost if anyone still grows it).
It will take about a month before your seedpod starts to turn brown and devote its energies to building fertile seeds. When the seed is ripe (brown all over) it will commence to open, exposing the seeds. At this point, pick the seed and place in those little brown envelopes you bought, marking the cross and put it in one of grandpa's old cigar boxes until spring time to plant and don't forget to throw in a couple of moth balls to keep the wiggleys out.
Another suggestion: if any of your seeds are not ripe and you are not going to be able to tend to them, get some gauze and wrap the seed, including the leaf below, and tie wrap the whole thing. See the hybrizing guide on this site for more tips.
A good hybridizer keeps a stud book just as does a horse trainer or Hound Pound, but that will be another story.
To read more on hybridizing, see JE Ludick's Hybridizing Guide.