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Plant breeding can be fun and rewarding. It's not just for scientists in laboratories, we can all do it in our own homes and gardens too!

Discover a new plant and win £500 Reward!

Plant breeding can be fun and rewarding. It's not just for scientists in laboratories, we can all do it in our own homes and gardens too!

STEP A - The ‘Selection’ Method

Many new varieties have arisen in the past from the observation of an improved or different type growing in a larger batch of plants. The more plants of one type you grow, the more chance there is of finding something different or unusual.

1. Select your plant

Be observant as you go around the garden, looking out for anything unusual, e.g. more petals than normal, some variation in flower size or colour, or differences in plant height or habit. When you see it, label the plant, describing its important characteristics (e.g. double flowers, dwarf etc.) and try to isolate it from other similar plants so that no cross-pollination occurs (see step 2).

2. Isolate your plant

Isolation prevents your special plant from being pollinated by its neighbour. This can be done by enclosing a number of flowers (still attached to the plant) within a large insectproof bag, either netting of some sort, grease-proof paper, or a plastic bag with small slits for ventilation. Ensure there is no gap at the base of the bag for insects to get in. Use a soft wire twist or string to secure the bag but be sure not to bruise or damage the stem of the flower. Another way of isolating a plant is to carefully dig it up with minimum root disturbance, pot it on, and move it a good distance away. Be sure the plant is sufficiently watered during this process. High obstacles like a tall thick hedge form a good isolation barrier, preventing bees or other insects from cross pollinating the plants.

3. Ensuring your plants produce seed

Isolated plants or flowers will often still need to be pollinated to ensure that the seed will set. To do this, the flowers should be ‘self-pollinated’. This is when you use the same flower or a flower of the same plant to pollinate with. For instructions on pollinating, see the “how to pollinate” section. Although self-pollination naturally occurs in some plants, other types like Poppy (Papaver) or members of the Daisy (Compositae) family will not self-pollinate. This is due to self-incompatibility, an in-built mechanism in the plant that prevents self-pollination from occurring. If the plant is self-incompatible, you can select a second similar looking plant and cross the two together.

4. Harvest your seed

When the seedpod is ripe, it is best placed with a label into a seed packet and stored in a cool, dry place. Later, the seed should be extracted, cleaned and placed in a packet labelled with the name, special characteristics of the plant and date of harvesting.

5. Further selection

The following season you should sow the seed that you have harvested. Once they germinate, prick out as many seedlings as you can, thereby increasing your chance of good results. Try to plant the seedlings away from other plants of the same type. As the plants grow and develop, pull out any that do not resemble your original selection (referred to as ‘rogues’), do this immediately before they cross-pollinate. You may be left with only a few plants which fit your aim. You could then leave the bees to cross your selections. Harvest the seed of your plants separately, for best results. The selection process may take two or more seasons. It should continue until all or most of the seed sown produces plants resembling your new type very closely.

Handy Hint
Find out as much as possible about the genus or species you are working on before you start. This is also a good way to check that there are no similar plants already in cultivation before you submit your entry.

Did you know?
Poppy ‘Angels Choir’ is a good example of the ‘eyes open’ method; the first variety of this type was actually seen growing in a field of red poppies. Wild flowers in the hedgerow or the plants in your garden may unexpectedly produce something different every so often, this is referred to as a ‘sport’.

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