Conserving/Maximizing Pollen

Any suggestions for conserving or maximizing the use of pollen. I currently collect it, lay it out on white paper to dry for 24 to 30 plus hours and then put it in those containers that look like pill boxes with a glass top that I believe Fara recommended. Then I use it over the next 3 or 4 days. I use q tips to apply the pollen. It just doesn’t seem to be enough to go around so I end up not pollinating a particular bloom or I throw some pollen on it that I wasn’t intending to cross it with. I use q tips to apply the pollen. I’m amazed at how little actual pollen you get from one bloom. I’m trying to pollinate between 20 and 40 blooms a day.

I would also be interested in hearing what your process and timeline is for collecting, drying, storing, using, refrigerating and freezing. I dry my pollen in our dining room and the temp is normally about 75 degree’s and the humidity level is about 10%.

I plan on stop pollinating around july 15 but I can see that I better keep collecting pollen and freezing it for next year.

My pollen collecting process

Day 1, 7:00 am till 10:00 am remove pollen from blooms

Day 1 and 2,10:00 am until late in the afternoon the following day I dry it on white paper

Day 3, 4, 5, apply it until I run out and I always run out!

Thanks for your idea’s and suggestions,

Bill C.

I prefer to use my finger I think that a lot of the pollen gets stuck in Q tips and paint brushes.

Also some varieties I have found to work better than others in shear amount of pollen. Some varieties like Rise N’ Shine seem to work for other people but I have difficulty getting enough pollen of it. It seems Rise N Shine in my climate converts a lot of its anthers to petals. On the other hand I have Rose Gilradi and while I have a lot less flowers by a long shot I get a lot more pollen from those flowers. So perhaps you just need to look at different parents.

I have also noticed the amount of pollen varies at different times of the year. It seems in spring and fall I get more pollen than in summer. Does anyone else have this experience? I do not know however if one time of the year makes it more fertile or not. I am doubting that it is summer in my climate just because of the heat and the lack of water.

While we are short of one the subject has anyone else noticed that if you pollinate a flower with larger quantity of pollen the first time instead of spreading the same amount of pollen over two days on the same flower hip set is better?

Also if you have very little pollen but very distinct pollen parents. Say a rugosa and a polyantha you might want to mix the pollen. You can feel assured that you amply pollinated a flower and the seedlings should be distinct enough that you could separate them out. I would not try it with say two Hybrid Teas with say a red flower and pollen from a white one since many modern roses have a complicated ancestry were flower alone will not point you too what parent was what.

Some pollen parents you may have to crush the dried anthers to get them to release the pollen.

I strictly use gass containers because light goes through them and it warms and dries up the male parts. It helps a lot to make sure that no moisture is on any of the male parts, which is a pretty big issue here in the PNW. I make sure to use small paintbrushes with black plastic bristles. They make the pollen extremely visible, are highly reusable and do not absorb moisture or pollen, which makes cleaning/reusing them in 10 seconds very easy – just dip in water and wipe it dry on your pants lol.

I specifically do not use my fingers for several reasons. First, it makes me paranoid to contaminate. Second, it seems pretty easy to be wasteful with fingers. Also, brushes are nice because they can be used as crushing tools as well. Last, if you are hybridizing and then touch your lips or mouth or nose or eyes, it could be “good game” if you have allergies. Both rose pollen and rose petal oils are highly allergenic. They will put me out of commission for the day if I get any of it onto my eyes, nose or throat.

Qtips are too messy and inefficient, in my opinion. Its too easy for the pollen to get lost inside the qtip mass. Also, the fibers absorb moisture, which can be bad. qtips also cost. They are not specifically reusable. Theyre cheap but continually buying tools for roses gets really old, really fast. Also, the fibers can get stuck on the female parts. I personally like to avoid any idea of potential damage to seed-creating possibilities.

I am still not very good at freezing pollen. I avoid the fridge as some fridges can have moisture. As for collection, it is highly variable and mostly intuitive. If its a cold, damp day, I collect 2 days prior and dry the pollen on the window shelf in the small glass vases. If it is a hot day (80-90), I collect the pollen in the morning and sun dry the pollen inside the car on the dash board for an hour or so. Anything hotter is not worth my time as plants usually shut down production past 92 degree F. Also, pollen degrades just as quickly in heat as it does moisture. Pollen is quite fragile.

Hi Bill,

I’m not sure where you live, but your humidity sounds something like ours - quite dry.

You can pollinate 40 or more blooms from one pollen parent bloom, provided it is a good pollen parent (releases lots of pollen and has good fertility).

I am very cheap when it comes to accessories. I use my finger. I used to just wipe it off on my pants between using different pollens (and I tend to use one pollen to pollinate all of the designated blooms for that pollen, for that day, before moving to the next pollen parent), but I found, like Jadae, that when you are allergic to roses, you have to be careful to not inoculate yourself (especially eyes and nose) with even the smallest amount of pollen. Pollen on my pants went everywhere. Now, I keep a slightly damp paper towel on hand and wipe my finger on that. After pollinating I am careful to wash my hands.

Day 1, I collect pollen from blooms that would open on that day in the morning, or from blooms that would open the next day, that afternoon. Whole anthers are collected for drying with curved tweezers and are put directly into short plastic Solo cups. The pollen is ready to use the next day.

Day 2, dried pollen is used to pollinate blooms. I will use pollen on the next day too, if none other is available, but I try to only use pollen the day after it has been collected.

Here is a photo showing the plastic cups with anthers drying on our mantel.

In cooler Spring weather, I will run the ceiling fan during the day to help dry the anthers. The cups are very durable and are recycled. Some of these are probably 10 years old.

A word about the plastic cups - they provide a bit of static electricity that makes it easy to get the pollen to spread out over the bottom of the cup. When the pollen is scant, I just flick the edge of the bottom of the cup a couple of times. This helps to spread out the pollen so that you don’t collect too much with your finger. Though you might not be able to see the pollen, I just wipe my finger across the bottom of the cup and it is easy

Jim… sharpie comes of plastic cups with a quick wipe down with methylated spirits :wink:

I use little glass-lidded metal beading jars. They are small (about 3cm across and 2cm high) and I can take lots of them with me in my little foam cooler (esky), and I can shake it vigorously to release the pollen and on roses with protruding stigma (i.e. not flat like on rugosa) I can use the lid as an applicator and never have to touch the flower :slight_smile: Just slide the stigma across the glass lid, put it back on, give it another good shake, lather, rinse and repeat LOL Pollen goes a LONG way that way especially with big pollen producers. It also stands out clearly on the glass… I like that too. Only problem I find is condensation. If you leave it sitting in the sun it will sweat and fog up… or cook (that’s why all my stuff is in a little cooler that I take around with me… keeps everything nice and safe).

The plastic cups that Jim mentions above are really perfect. I happened to have some left over from some child’s student project and tried them last yr. The electro-static-ness (or whatever it’s called)of the plastic makes the pollen cling to the sides and bottom, and it is so easy to see and use. They are called 2 ounce souffle cups, and I believe you can get them at both Smart and Final, and at Costco, among probably other places. (Costco uses them for handing out samples).The tape is a good idea–I have been writing both name and date of pollen on the cup with Sharpies, and will soon run out of space. If you freeze the pollen it is easy to pop the container with lid on, into a small freezer bag and seal. So far I have not had any lids pop off and the double protection seems a safe bet. And they are inexpensive and reusable, stackable, and sealable. They are very light weight, and I have lost some pollen when the wind picked up the container and blew it down the hill. More reason to use the lids.

Am I correct in noticing that pollen that is picked when immature does not separate as well or easily from the anthers as it does when the anthers are more mature and as close as possible to (but before) releasing?? It seems that some of the low pollen amounts are related to not waiting long enough to harvest anthers.

Hi Jackie,

I’m glad that you’ve tried the cups! They really are the best solution that I have found.

Yes, the pollen release amount will be maximal in blooms that from experience you know will open the same morning that you are collecting the pollen. You can pick the blooms a day or two ahead of time and still get viable pollen, but the amount released will be less.

Jim Sproul

Absolutely these souffle/sample cups are the best, and an added bonus is that when they are used for freezing pollen, I have not had a problem with the inside of the cup or lid fogging up. It takes about 60 seconds for the temps to equalize with the room temps, without any fear of getting the pollen damp.

I would definitely avoid using Q-tips: so much of the pollen stays on the cotton fibers and is wasted. Fingertips are much better; you can see how much pollen is on your skin and you can be sure almost every grain gets used. As Jim said, just avoid putting your fingers in your eyes or near mucous membranes or you can set off an intense allergic response.

Thanks to everyone who added their suggestions and idea’s.

Adam, After your comments and others I’m giving my wife back her qtips and start using my finger to spread pollen. I also agree with your comment on less pollen in the summer. The month of June was when I had the worst time coming up with enough pollen and until the last day of June the temps were in the 98-101 range and we had no rain until June 30th. Night time temps were in the low to middle 80’s.

Jadae, what do you mean when you say ‘I’m still not very good at freezing pollen’? What problems are you experiencing? How long were you freezing it for? One of my problems is the garden that I collect most of my pollen from is about an hour plus drive from my home if the traffic is not to heavy. I was thinking of freezing it for a week or two to cut down on the number of trips to the garden.

Jim, I live in Argyle, Tx about 35 north of Dallas. I was stationed in the early 1960’s close to you at Camp (Sr moment ???, Ah, Army Post) 40 miles into the desert from Barstow Calif. I’m amazed when you say you can polinate about 40 blooms from one pollen parent bloom. I would be happy with 5. I believe q tips along with the hot weather in June impacted the amount of pollen I was able to collect and use. For pollen parents I started out using McCartney rose, Oregold, Midas Touch, First Prize, Kristin and Reiko. I then started using Sun Flare, Honey Perfume, and Julia Child. My seed parents are Avandel, Fair Hope, Hot Tamale, Joycie, June Laver, Loving Touch, Sequoia Gold, Care Free Beauty and Sachet. My plan is to continue pollinating until the middle of this month. When do you stop pollinating?

Why do you use ‘curved tweezers’ to collect pollen. Isn’t that an a very slow process to pick off the anthers one by one? I use a pocket kife to collect the anthers in bundles but I also get a lot of filaments.

I’m going to try the plastic cups you recommended along with my finger for an applicator in lieu of q tips.

Jackie, thanks for the info on where to purchase the plastic cups. I’m probably also guilty of harvesting the anthers a little early also.

A lot of times I am guilty of collecting anthers to early. I find a lot of times that if I wait the pistils are no longer fresh looking but beginning to dry out; I don’t know? But at least this season most of my pollen parents are only being used as pollen parents. With a few exceptions.

I use little nail scissors to collect the pollen. I too have a lot of the filaments in my pollen jars. With my Daylilies I do not do this because the filaments contain too much water. But with roses I do not see this as being a problem. With the low humidity my pollen usually dries pretty well. I freeze extra pollen for next year. I keep it in little bead jars with the screw on lids. I then wrap a little scotch tape around it so the crack between the two pieces are covered. Then I put all these bead jars in a zip lock bag making sure I squeeze out as much air as I can. Several of my crosses this year was from this pollen. I did not notice a difference in the fertility but I do go heavy on it.

As for me I am in Fort Collins Colorado and here I will probably end pollinating next week. Mostly know I am doing crosses I do not expect to take. The crosses I planned are pretty much done for the most part. I went heavy on using William Baffin, Carefree Beauty, Persian Yellow and Purple Pavement as pollen parents on mostly tetraploid modern roses. I have a lot of William Baffin and Carefree Beauty crosses that look like they took. I have a few crosses of Persian Yellow and Purple Pavement that look like they took but we will see, most have been falling off.

Hi Bill,

Were you stationed at Edwards AFB? The weather is a bit hotter there than here.

It looks like you are using mainly minis for seed parents. Are they in pots? How many seedlings do you like to raise per year? What are your goals?

Among the seed parents that you list, I have used ‘Avandel’, ‘Fairhope’, ‘June Laver’ and ‘Loving Touch’ as seed parents. I tried ‘Hot Tamale’ a couple of times, but hip take was always very poor - it does make a good pollen parent, however.

If your pollen parents are remote, you might try the idea of picking blooms as mentioned above and putting them in the refrigerator. You can take one or two out everyday of your prospective pollen parents and easily have pollen over a full week.

I use the curved tweezers to emasculate blooms and to collect pollen. Most of the time, I snap off blooms and bring in the house to collect the pollen (it’s cooler that way!) rather than collect pollen from seed parent blooms that I am emasculating. It is actually very fast (not done one anther at a time). The tweezers work well to “dig out” anthers that are caught among the stigmas of seed parents too. I use the tweezers to “pull off” the anthers. The small filament fragments dry very easily and are not a problem. And, as mentioned above, I make no effort to separate the pollen from the dried anthers/filaments.

In your heat, I would imagine that you will be making very few productive crosses for the rest of the year. Heat does affect pollen production and hip take. I started pollinations at the end of March. About 1/2 of my pollinations were done during the 2 weeks in April when I take half-days off in the morning. 75% of the pollinations were finished by the first of June. In June, I do experimental crosses mostly involving the best brand new seedlings from the current year. My last pollinations for the year were done on June 30th.

Jim Sproul

Yeah, I use tweezers and very small sewing scissors. I sometimes use stainless steel dental tools someone gave me cause they thought they looked useful for me, but I usually use them for taking seeds out of hips instead. The reason for the smallness is exactly as Jim stated. The pollen heads get caught into the hip sometimes, so I carefully dig them out in fear that they will release pollen and contaminate the hard work done.

I say that Im not very good at freezing pollen cause I have failed at it twice. I keep getting too much moisture onto the pollen heads or the pollen grains. Its cause the moisture either freezes inside the glass tubes I was using and/or the grains themselves. The second they come out of freeze, the crystallized moisture melts and ruins everything. However, I was trying all of this with more delicat epollen like rosa banksia lutescens, Rosa chinensis ‘Sanguinea’ and Rosa primula


The Army post out in the desert from Barstow is Fort Irwin. I have been there many times. I was stationed in LA some years ago and it was great to get out of the smog and breathe some good clean desert air.

Jadae is it crystallized moisture or is it moisture from the air possibly? If it is possibly the second one try placing the frozen pollen from the freezer into the fridge for a day before you plain to open it up and use it. I found that by doing this first I do not get water condensing on the inside of the container from the air around it.

Jadae I was thinking about your problem last night and I think I came up with another possible solution. If the problem is moisture from the freezer itself. You could use small enough pollen containers that they will fit inside of a plastic Tupperware container. And then fill the extra space with powdered milk or baking soda. The powdered milk or baking soda are fairly cheap and both will absorb moisture. So it should absorb any moisture getting in to the container before it reaches the pollen. Or at least that what I theorize will happen.

I can see why you want to use R. banksia lutescens and Rosa primula. But I do not know much about Rosa chinensis ‘Sanguinea’ can you tell me a little about it.

Jim what short of things do you get from Hot Tamale? I just got it this spring and haven’t got a chance to work with it yet. I was thinking I would probably have to cross it to something disease resistant first and then probably backcross or do another round with a more disease resistant parent before I can begin to realize much potential coming from a line started with it.

Jadae, A really easy solution to moisture in the pollen is to slip a ‘desiccant drying packet’ (copied that right off the package) which often comes in any electronics, dried foods, some candies, etc., in nicely packaged, ready for reuse size packets. I have kept these for years and throw them in my misc. drawer (AKA junk drawer) and in the spring use them because it is very humid here for a few months. When done with them simply redry them on a cookie sheet for about 10 mins. at a low temp. We get pretty dry here around July onward so I don’t bother with that step. Like I said in an earlier reply, the plastic sample cups (which I use the desiccant packs with in the early spring) don’t have the problem of moisture beading up on the inside when defrosting, but that may be why. Also, they defrost so fast that you don’t have the condensate problem you would have with something heavier, like glass or metal.

Jim, My apologies for taking so long to respond. All my mini seed parents are in 7 gal containers. My goal so far has just been to learn and enjoy the process and see what nature provides. I can grow a lot of seedlings at least for the first year, probably 400 to 600. After that period the number goes sharply down hill. I currently am raising about 150 from this past winter, mostly open pollinated seedlings. I started with at least twice that number but have eliminated many.

I was stationed at what then, 1962-1965, was known as Camp Irwin, Calif which was 40 miles from Barstow with nothing in between the camp and town and I mean NOTHING.

thanks for your helpful suggestions,

bill c.

Thank you all for all of the suggestions. Sorry for the delay in replying. I was out of town. I’ll keep these in mind when I attempt those pesky extremely early bloomers again.

Adam, ‘Sanguinea’ is a single red china. It is disease free here, ever-blooming and make a 4’ x 4’ ball here. The leaves are dark green, large and lance-like yet fat. The blooms are pretty big for a species – 3-4" range and single. The petals are like crepe, plastic and silk all in one. Theyre a weird texture lol. The blooms color starts out a light red to deep pink and deeps to dark red where the sun hits it. It is definitely phototropic like Mutabilis is. However, it is much healthier here with larger blooms than Mutabilis. The bad part is that it completely resents pruning just like all of the other chinas and teas grown here. I learned to winter tip-prune and to only hack off dead inner branches and twigs. If pruned like any other shrub, the branch will die back lol. The branches themselves are a smooth, shiny green with only a few thorns here and there. It’s about 90% smooth here. I found it to be an excellent rose that thrived in both spring rain and summer heat. It didnt seem to mind the rare 7 degree winter he had but it does seem to mind if it starts to flood during a really wet winter. It doesnt seem to like to sit in water, despite being in a 6" elevated garden with rive rock.

I was trying to save its pollen from the Fall to use on the early spring blooming species like Rosa banksia lutescens and Rosa primula. I was curious if it could pass on its phototropic trait easily onto diploids. It makes for a horrible seed parent. In the rare event that one can get it to set, it will usually give one huge seed. By the way, the hips are usually a warped, oval-ish kidney-like shape. Its kind of odd as far as hip shapes go. It is more likely to set a few OPs than it is to get actuals attempts to take. The pollen will initiate hip set in other roses. The stamens are plentiful but the pollen can be sparse at times. When it is plentiful, usually when the temps are moderate and dry, the pollen is very fine, silty and pale.

I never really got anything from this rose but thats mostly because I tried it on extremely difficult species roses. I actually think its possible to use this rose successfully. I dont own it currently because I moved, but if I still had it, I would use it to breed into and dilute it inoto other diploids(I’d try to keep the positive traits like everblooming, color and foliage) because of its distaste for non-warm climate. If I had it right at this moment, I’d put its pollen onto Red Fairy to work on creating a nice true red diploid for breeding work. Red Fairy would be pretty awesome if it werent for the distracting magenta color.