Search Articles

Success Story: Daylily Breeder
Puts the APS Through Its Paces

Virginia Bresnahan
Although most people use APS seedstarters to germinate flower and vegetable seeds, Virginia Bresnahan has found that the APS can also be used to germinate daylily seeds.

Forty years ago, when Virginia Bresnahan moved to her present house in Deerfield, Ill., she brought a love of plant breeding along with her. Virginia was a rosarian and had a passion for hybridizing roses and tall bearded irises. However, as the trees around her new home grew, the yard got shadier and these sun-loving flowers began to struggle. Virginia switched her focus to daylilies, Siberian irises and hostas. She has been happily breeding these shade-tolerant perennials ever since.

Virginia began planting her current daylily gardens back in 1970, and they are now an American Hemerocallis (daylily) Society display garden. "I currently have more than 300 named daylily varieties and 250 seedlings growing in my suburban yard," she says. "Each year I weed out some of the old varieties and plant some new ones," she adds. Virginia likes breeding daylilies because they're easy to cross, grow well under all types of conditions, and they're beautiful. "They're irresistible," she exclaims. "I see two lovely flowers and think if I cross them I'll make another that's even lovelier," she says. One of the daylilies that Virginia has bred, which she called 'Golden Beryl', has been introduced into the commercial trade.

Breeding a Better Daylily

While Virginia's gardens still include Siberian iris, columbine, hostas, and other perennials, it's the daylilies that rule. Breeding them takes patience, organization and attention to detail. The trickiest part, though, is germinating the seed.

Virginia takes pollen from the anthers of a chosen plant and places it on the pistil of another choice daylily. She tags and numbers each cross in her "stud" book. Once the seedpods turn from green to brown, she gently squeezes the pods. If they "pop" open, it's time to harvest the seeds.

Seeds are collected in brown envelopes with the cross number and number of seeds written on top, and are then stored in the refrigerator for about four months. In December, Virginia germinates them under lights in a heated growing chamber in her carport. The heat in the growing box—plus heating mats—provides enough warmth for the seeds to germinate.

Seedling Success
APS seedstarter
The APS-24 seedstarter

After much trial and error, Virginia has found the perfect system for starting daylily seeds. "I've tried many different seedstarting systems, but hands-down, the APS seedstarter is the best," says Virginia. "The cell sizes are large, so seedlings don't need to be transplanted right away. Most importantly, as the plants grow, the capillary matting keeps just enough moisture in the soil, so the daylilies thrive. I use the smaller celled APS-40 for fine-seeded perennials, such as hosta. For large-seeded plants, such as daylilies, I use the APS-24," she says. "There are lots of variables in seed germination, but the APS makes success more predictable," she says. "If the seed doesn't grow, I know it's bad seed, not the growing conditions," she says.

After growing the daylily seedlings for 2 to 3 months in the APS system, she transplants them into individual pots filled with Gardener's Supply Container Mix so they continue growing strong.

In late spring Virginia plants her daylily babies outdoors in the ground and she labels each one with a metal tag. "The squirrels love to dig up and move the white plastic markers, then I don't know what variety I have," she says. It takes three years of in-ground growing before the daylilies start to flower and show their full potential.

Virginia's Favorites
Daylily trials
It takes three years of in-ground growing before the daylilies start to flower and show their full potential.

Being surrounded by hundreds of different varieties of daylilies makes it difficult for Virginia to name her favorites. "I do particularly like the big, fat, full-formed flowers and also the spider types," she says.

It seems breeding is habitat-forming. Virginia says she'll keep breeding and growing daylilies and other perennials as long as she has room to grow them. "If there's any lawn left in my yard, it's only because I can't grow flowers there!"

Share This Article

Sign Up for E-mail

Get the latest news, tips and gardening info!

Sign Up
Looking for Product Instructions?

Assembly instructions, diagrams and other types of product information are available on product pages. To find it, search for the product, go to the product page and click on the "How-To and Instructions" tab.

Satisfaction Guaranteed

We stand by the quality of our products and our service. If for any reason you're not satisfied with your purchase, you can return it to us for an EXCHANGE, REFUND, or CREDIT.

Learn More

Learn and Share

Our website is packed with how-tos and inspiration, as well as opportunities to share with fellow gardeners. Check back often to view new articles, videos, blog posts and Facebook updates and join our online community.

Learn & Share

Good Works

Gardener's Supply is committed to improving the world through gardening. We support nonprofit gardening, hunger-relief and community organizations with volunteer time and donations of 8% of our pre-tax profits.

                    Learn More