Maximize Efforts to make largest number of Crosses

I thought that it might be worthwhile to have a discussion about how to maximize the number of crosses in the shortest amount of time. For me, I do the following, usually during about 2 weeks of mornings when I take off 1/2 days from work as vacation time during the first bloom cycle:

  1. Anthers (pollen) are collected the day before crosses are made (I use pollen for 1 or 2 days max, and usually get fresh pollen each day to be used the next).

  2. All prospective blooms to pollinate on that particular day are dealt with first (this is done so as to remove anthers on the maximum number of blooms before the pollen is released - and I usually work on the single or semidouble blooms first). I remove all but 1 or 2 petals, then remove all anthers, and move on to the next bloom. Up to 30 or 40 blooms on a given plant can be quickly prepared in this way, and then I move to the next plant.

  3. After all of the blooms that morning have been prepared for pollination, I go back and pollinate all of the blooms using my middle finger. I do not wait to find sticky material on the stigmas and I do not apply tons of pollen. Remember, pollen is microscopic and if you can just barely see it on your finger, there are probably hundreds or thousands of pollen grains there. When I change pollens, I wipe my finger off on my pant leg.

  4. I pollinate in groups depending on the pollen parent. I will make out 30 or so tags (paper tags with a string on it), indicating pollen parent (eg. TR = Tournament of Roses). Then after the tag has been placed around the peduncle, I remove the remaining 1 or 2 petals to indicate that I am through with that bloom. This whole process can be done rather quickly, so that I can pollinate about 50 blooms or more an hour.

Apparently, my message was too long, so this is the last part:

  1. I try to stick to no more than 5 pollen parents being used per seed parent. This helps to keep track of all the seeds later on, instead of having many different lots of seeds, though with few seeds. As roses often have poor germination, if you only have 10 or 20 seeds from a given cross, it will be difficult to learn anything from that particular cross, especially if none of the seeds germinate.

  2. The last thing that I do is to collect pollen to be used the next day. Anthers are stored in open plastic cups on a bookshelf in my bedroom with a ceiling fan on low speed.

Does anyone else do anything else to maximize their efforts?


“When I change pollens, I wipe my finger off on my pant leg.” … So you do not wash your hands when you want to try to pollinate with different pollen? Wow, I think I’m anal when it comes to making sure that my hands are free contanimination of other pollen. I wash my hand, scrub them well underneath the nails, and let them air dry. With a many pieces of tissue, I open gate door to the garden, remove the petals, and to hold the razor so to carefully remove all the anthers. Then I use that tissue to get another tissue to cover the cross… Right now I’m just using Q-tips ear cleaners to apply the pollen, but when I do decide to use my hands; very tiresome. Q-tips have the advantage that they can be thrown away. I do not need to worry about my pollen being spoiled.

OK, at the risk of being called weird: I use my fingers exclusively, and I try to concentrate as much as possible on a single pollen on any given day, but I still have to switch many times. I sometimes use a wet tissue to wipe of the pollen (plain water kills the pollen if most plants just as well as soap). If that isn’t available, I stick the finger in my mouth to get it wet, and wipe it dry on my shirt or pants (a new spot each time). To answer the inevitable question, rose pollen is nearly flavorless, except for R. spinosissima and its forms, which have distinctly sweet pollen (more like sugar substitute than the real thing). Now you can all laugh.

I also save time by pollinating only every other day, and using color-coded wires and twist-ties to mark the male parents (the female is obvious, yes?). I tape a piece of each wire to a piece of paper and note what it means. This stays on the refrigerator until harvest time.

I use my finger to pollinate also, and simply lick it between pollens and wipe it on my shirt to dry. I make sure I have a freshly laundered shirt on too. Using a Q-tip often wastes a lot of pollen, especially if you have very little of a certain variety. As Jim says, a little precious pollen can go a long way, so why throw away 1/2 of it on a Q-tip?!


I use the “finger-licking good” method, like Paul B. I pollinate a lot fewer than the 50 flowers/hour that Jim S can do. Mainly because I take pains to put large amounts of pollen on each flower, and ensure that each stigma gets its share. There is evidence in some plants that increased pollen competition results in more vigorous seedlings. (No one seems to have tested this in hybrid roses.)

I work four 10 hour days/week, so I do most of my pollinations on the weekend. I just ran electricity out to the greenhouse and will put in lights this weekend. This will allow me to do more on week days.

I pollinate over a much longer period than Jim S, from mid April to mid July. It spreads out the pollination work and the harvest work. In the past, I’ve kept pollen for a maximum of 2 days. This year, I’m refrigerating some of it and keeping it as long as 2 weeks. It’s too early to tell how viable that pollen is.

BTW, did you hear about the magnitude 5.2 earthquake in northern California last night? The epicenter was 9 miles from my house. It shook pretty hard. Some things fell off shelves, but there was no real damage. I was a little concerned about the greenhouse as this was its first significant quake, but it came through unharmed.

Wow, I guess I have to start using the KFC method of rose hybridizing, but habbits die hard. Some how Q-tips give me a sense of “purity”. Jim, I also puts TONS of pollen on my roses, and at times repollinate. A few of my roses such as Mon Cheri won’t produce any hips unless I do so, or they shortly after abort.

I’ll add a couple more observations:

I have found certain pollens to be of very low fertility or to be completely infertile (that of course is learned later in the rose breeding season when hips abort).

This is an important observation that has been seen both in the greenhouse and outside. To me it means that I am pretty good at wiping the pollen off my finger without washing or licking it off (it means that not enough leftover fertile pollen from my finger or coming from my pants makes it to the stigmas to result in hip formation). It also tells me that there is no need to spend time covering the petal-less blooms after they are pollinated. Like Roger stated above, I try to wipe off the pollen in a new spot on either my pants or shirt when I change pollens.

I tried pipe cleaners and Q-tips at the beginning, but found it hard to keep track of them and as Paul observed, tons of pollen is wasted that way. From the amount of pollen you leave on a Q-tip, I am confident that I could pollinate 15 to 20 blooms. A little pollen goes a LONG WAY.

At any one time I am usually working with about 15 or more different pollens. I only need to collect 3 to 5 blooms of each type to keep daily fresh pollen.

I suppose that I am as compulsive as most in our hobby, I think that that is a characteristic that attracts people to this hobby. I still try to remove all anthers before pollinating, but I know that the anthers that are stuck down in around the stigmas probably do not have to each and everyone be dug out to assure that self pollination does not occur.

This is a “two parter”.

Part 2…

Finally, while it is true that an occasional pollen grain must get loose (I have found striped seedlings among crosses that do not contain a striped parent), that does not concern me. There are plenty of other steps along the way where a particular seed will not be properly labeled (wrong tag put on peduncle; tag lost or eatten by critters; hips fall prematurely from plant (can’t tell which plant is female parent as I only put male parent on tags - saves time); when planting, a seed may bounce into another area containing a different cross; etc., etc.

…And so what for the minor errors! (they don’t happen that often). And since 99% of the seedlings are eliminated, if a desirable seedling makes the cut, I would be most thankful for the unknown seedling - I will accept it as a blessing.

The objective in my mind (with limited time and limited pollen available) is to make the largest number of desirable crosses (I tend to use female parents that reliably set seed and produce seed that germinate well too) in the smallest amount of time, using the smallest amount of pollen.

Another thing that I do which has helped me to obtain pollen easily from a lower number of anthers is to keep the pollen in the short clear plastic drinking cups. It is easy to use a marker to put the pollen code on the cup and the cups stack easily for moving them from the house out to the greenhouse. When pollen is scant, I bounce the anthers on the bottom of the cup by gently shaking the cup up and down. It is amazing how much pollen you can get out of them - and it is easy to see as it clings to the bottom of the cup.

Happy rose breeding!


Hey you guys! Your wives must just love you bringing in all those messy pants and shirts to have washed! How many ‘good’ clothes have you ruined? LOL, LOL, LOL! I use the finger method as well, but without the ‘licking’ part. Any of John’s ratty old t-shirts end up as rags. I use a damp one to do the finger wiping bit. I do not put a lot of pollen on, but I do back a bit later and put some more on if I remember to do it. I keep my pollen in film canisters for weeks, freezing some in the fall that I want to use next season. BTW, I have a couple of lovelies from Vista using Elegant Beauty pollen that had been in the freezer over the winter. Has anyone ever done a controlled experiment using both fresh and previously frozen pollen on a different bloom of the same bush and keeping track of the results? Just wonder how much viability is lost by long term storage and/or freezing.

I actually started out using the finger method but then switched to Q-tips. I also pollinate on a much smaller scale, so that I might only have one or a few blooms needing the same pollen. I store my pollen in some plastic containers that are about 1.5 inches high (paint containers from the craft store). I can cut the Q-tip enough to fit in the container with the lid shut and still have enough of a handle to use. I re-use the same Q-tip and container all season for the same pollen.

I use a method similar to Joan but I have found that pipe cleaners cut to length are easier to use and waste less pollen. I also use a "spreader’(talc or fresh pollen mixed with older pollen)to dilute the pollen in order to make it go further. I was going to start a topic by asking if anyone else used a spreader in their crosses. I didnt see it mentioned here so I guess this teqnique is not common amoung rose breeders.

I forgot to add that I also use the pipe cleaners to label my crosses by using a different color or combination of colors and textures (thick, thin metalic etc.) for each pollen parent. I cut them into 2 inch pieces and sometimes twist colors together for more color combinations luckily they are reusable. You should see me in the stores looking for new colors each spring. It saves me alot of time on labeling though. Surprisingly there are quite a few colors and textures available. Which reminds me it is time to start looking again…

Randy - another way is to use phone wires which hold up rather well. There are many different color combinations. You probably can get all the scrap pieces you want from your phone company.

A rose friend gave me a bloom of ‘The Squire’, since I do not have it, so that I could use pollen to pollinate some of my seed parents.

Well, it seems that ‘The Squire’, while it does produce some pollen, it is by no means abundant. At any rate, from a single bloom of ‘The Squire’, I was able to pollinate 12 blooms. The plastic cups really aid in helping the pollen to go further.



I can appreciate your comments about ‘The Squire’. It seems that all of its offspring are like that, especially ‘The Prince’. It can produce some pollen when it feels like it, and the anthers have to be crushed to get it all, but WOW. It’s offspring can be wonderful. So far, it has been well worth my time and effort to squeeze out the 25 grains of pollen to pollinate a few blooms. Take a look at this year’s new results. This is a cross of the Portland Damask ‘Marbree’ and ‘The Prince’.


Hi Paul:

That’s a beauty! I am looking forward to seeing what comes up next year.

I used Mr. Moore’s ‘Crested Moss’ this year. It had better pollen this year. Last year, I think that I was able to collect about 2 anthers, but this year was able to get several good crosses made.

It is with these kind of roses especially that one should take care to be as efficient as possible in distributing the pollen.