First Pollinator

I am just trying my first crosses and have come up with a couple of questions that I am unclear about. A friend gave me some small metal pill cans or ointment cans. They are about 1/2 inch high and 1 1/2 to 2" in diameter and have a little paper insert on the lid to write on. Since he is a hybridizer, I understood that you collect pollen in these , let them alone for 12 to 24 hours, open and pollinate.

I collected fresh yellow anthers in them yesterday and today I find them a little dry, but somewhat damp, some still a light tan and other dark. I don’t see many light yellow pollen grains in the can and crushing them doesn’t appear to increase the amount of pollen either.

Sorry for such simple questions, but I am having problems with the first, but critical step. The literature I have looked at doesn’t seem to get to this level. But I sense it is very critical.

Similarly, I have read that I should check back towards the end of the day to see if the female is ready, but again it is not perfectly clear exactly when in what time frame after emasculation, I should pollinate, if I get any pollen to use, and what I should be looking for. Thanks for any hybridization tips 101.



Nick, let the anthers dry fully (usually for a day) on a sheet of clean paper before transferring them to the storage container.

The containers you describe sound very nice for storing the pollen in a freezer, or shipping, but I find that glass baby food jars are much more useful. You can bang the jars against the heel of your hand to loosen the pollen, then you can stick your finger (or brush if you wish to use a brush–I find it a bother) into the pollen and transfer it to the target pistils.

You may pollinate the female parent any time you wish. If the female is not ready, the pollen will be there when it becomes ready, and your pollen will do its job.

If you’re not already a member of RHA, I’d suggest that you join the organization and buy the beginning and “Next Step” booklets. They are written by hybridizers and contain practical suggestions about many things: they will save you a tremendous amount of time and worry, and the suggestions will probably save you a lot more money than the little the booklets cost. See the link below.



Thanks Peter. I am a member, but as with many things I have not developed a good filing system. As a result, I can not remember where I filed it, or what tub it is in. In the meantime, I have opened the little cans and am letting them dry a bit more. My “kit” has some small glaseen (sp?) envelopes. I assume that is what you put over the seed parent for a few days to keep the bees or other chance pollinators away. Thanks again. Best, Nick

I suspect that lots of folks will tell you that the idea of covering pollinated flowers is not worth the effort. For sure out here in the windy west we’d never keep them on. And in a hot sunny climate almost anything will cook the flower. Bees won’t bother if you’ve removed the petals.

Getting pollen from anthers is a bit of a mystery. Sometimes they are a bit immature to shed, and sometimes it seems they don’t really have much pollen in them. But when really dry, usually something comes out. As for color, it matters little. Some is white, some deep yellow. As Peter mentioned, the finger is mightier than the brush, or at least a lot faster.

Old-fashioned waxed paper is a good drying surface, or the glassine envelopes spread open somehow. They will draw some moisture from the anthers and then help it evaporate.

I happen to have a supply of slightly used plastic petri dishes. If you can afford it, pick the whole flower, after removing the petals, and rest it over the edge so the pollen falls into the container. After 1-3 days the whole thing will dry up. In the meantime it seems to yield more pollen, than simply picking anthers at what seems to be the right stage of opening of the flower. The trick is that you are trying to allow the ripening process to happen. Relative humidity afects this a lot. Too humid, no maturation with release, too dry, no development. For flowers that open slowly, like the fancy HTs, it is really hard to guess when they are ready. For rose species and some hybrids, they really are ready the day the flower begins to open. Sometimes within a couple hours of sunrise.

Larry - Thanks for the additional tips on how to get pollen. I will try some of them tomorrow. In the mean time, I go to the grocery store and buy some baby food in small jars and some waxed paper. Too bad I did’t think about this sooner, my youngest grandson is 17 months and has been eating table food for 6 months! - Nick

Save the envelopes for mailing pollen to friends as there is generally no need to cover your crosses. You might want to cover them if rain threatens right after you pollenate, but use sandwich baggies for this and remove them soon after the rain stops.

I use 7 dram polystyrene vials for pollen management. The best are from Fisher Scientific, catalogue number 03-341-11, but these also the most expensive. Jones Packaging in Ontario sells a similar vial (# T14070) at about a quarter of the cost of the Fisher vials and they work just fine.

Don’t be too hasty in collecting the anthers. They will not begin to dehisce until the blossom is open enough to allow them to dry out.