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!
When you deliberately set out to create a new plant variety, cross-pollination is an invaluable method in breeding. As an example, you could potentially create a dwarf yellow flowered plant by crossing two plants of the same genus, maybe a tall yellow flowered plant (x) with a dwarf red flowered one (y). Or you could try crossing an annual with a perennial.
In year one, you will need to cross plant x with y or vice versa, following the pollination method shown within this guide. At the end of the season, harvest the seed.
In year two, sow the results of the cross (referred to as the F1 generation) and grow in an isolated area and then harvest seed from these plants.
During the third year, you should sow out the harvested seed. This next generation (referred to as the F2) is where you should see the results of your original cross. Select plants that have the desired trait (using our above example, these would be plants that are dwarf and have yellow flowers). Once selected, the plants can be self-pollinated (pollinating the same flower with itself, or using a flower from the same plant). If they are self-incompatible, then they can be crossed with a plant with very similar characteristics.
In the subsequent years following your hybridisation, you should use the selection method to get your seed true to type. Remember to sow the seeds of individual selections separately to increase your chances of attaining seed true to type quicker.
Sometimes you may have a problem with your desired plant trait not coming through into the offspring. You may need to ‘back-cross’ some of the crossed plant selections with the original parent (either x or y, whichever has the characteristic that you are having problems with). The term back-cross simply refers to the method by which seedlings or offspring are cross pollinated back onto one of the parents involved in the original cross.
It is very important to label your plants accurately, and to also keep a small sample of seed from every stage of the breeding, in case you encounter a failure and need to retrace your breeding steps.
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