Let's Talk Hybridizing: Thoughts of an Amateur
Mission, British Columbia
I have been fooling around with hybridizing for a good many years now and by no means do I consider myself an expert. I admire the work of the many great hybridizers, and to single out one or a few would be unfair to the other talented hybridizers.
Everything that has been written and said about hybridizing is true. It is both very disappointing and very rewarding. To me it is just as exciting to see the new foliage emerge in the spring as it is to see a plant bloom for the first time. It does, however, take a lot of time and dedication but it can be very satisfying.
One tip that I would like to pass along as an amateur hybridizer is to make sure you get a cutting or cuttings going as soon as possible from a plant which you might consider good or you think is going to be very good. How many times have you produced a plant that you were very excited about only to have it die on you. This has happened to me on several occasions. If you are not a professional grower and you are always experimenting with growing media anything can happen. There are many variables which a grower has to consider and they are too many to list here - many of which you probably know anyway. Quite a few years ago I had a real infestation of the rhododendron root weevil. I had literally dozens and dozens of seedlings slowly dying, and I did not know why. I automatically thought it was Phytophthora, but under very close inspection, I noticed the bark had been girdled right at the soil level. It was the larva of the rhododendron root weevil. I had all kinds of seedlings which were going to bloom for the first time but never had the chance.
([R. arboreum x R. degronianum ssp. yakushimanum]
x ['Red Majesty' x R. arboreum]#2), a cross by Gerry Heriot.
Photo by Gerry Heriot
The accompanying photo is a hybrid cross which is seen blooming for the first time. Naturally I was very excited because I thought I had something good here. Guess what? For some unknown reason the plant died the following year. Maybe it was winter damage, who knows. When I saw it bloom for the first time, I automatically took pollen from it and stored it. Then in the fall I took three cuttings from it. There was not that much wood on it, but two of the three cuttings rooted and I am still growing them. They have not yet bloomed, but at least I will get a chance to see if my early assessment was right. If the plant turns out to be not as good as I originally thought it was, so what, but then again, if it is any good, then I haven't lost a thing.
Gerry Heriot is a member of the Fraser Valley Rhododendron Society, ARS Fraser Valley Chapter.