Seedling record keeping

I’ve been an RHA member for a little over a year, read just about everything I can and I still have a some lingering questions.

Now that I finally have a few seedlings to deal with, I was wondering when to start tracking the individual seedlings as opposed to just watching the group develop. I know most of you assign some type of code to seedlings and I plan to do the same. The question is, when do you start assigning codes? Is it four weeks, six months or when they are individually potted? Mr. Moore’s 0-47-19 would be an example. When was the code assigned? Were there records kept of the others from the cross? I don’t want to keep more information than necessary, but I also don’t want to miss something.

Hi Jeff,

What I do may or may not be practical for you. When I first started, I would give a code name to every seedling that I potted up. Now, I only give a code name to a seedling that has been propagated, or saved for a second year evaluation.

The first designation in my codes is a letter. The letter selected is for the year that the seedling grew in the greenhouse. That is, the the first year that I had seedlings in the greenhouse, they were all given the code “A”. This year is the 14th year that I have planted seeds in the greenhouse, so all seedling codes will begin with the letter “N”.

Seedling crosses are planted in groups in the seedling benches. The first group is “group 1”, so gets the number “1” attached to the code. The next group is “group 2”, so gets “2”, and so on. The final part of the code represent which seedling is being identified among survivors of that particular cross. This is preceded by a “-”.

So, a seedling this year, in the 16th group planted in the seedling benches, that is the 3 seedling to be kept from that group (either propagated or saved for another year of evaluation), would be given the code name “N16-3”. My database is organized by year and each group is designated sequentially, so it is easy to find “who” the parents were by referencing the database.

Most seedlings do not survive after the first bloom, so time is not wasted on them either in giving them code numbers, or in taking notes of them. I do think that it is a good idea to take notes of your general observations about a cross, for example, “most of the seedlings had powdery mildew”.

If any of that doesn’t make sense, please let me know!

Jim Sproul

Thanks Jim:

Your method does make sense. Thanks for the input.


I am pretty new to breeding roses myself. I do have some experience with breeding other plants. With roses I usually wait until all the crosses that should be repeat blooming have bloomed before I make the first culling. My main goal is to see what the different flower color range I get from the seedlings. My main selecting at this point has been against plants that show heavy powdery mildew inside, plants that do not want to grow because of lack of vigor and flowers with peliferations. I probably select too many to grow on outside but I am sure in time I will begin to be more choosy as I learn. With my experience with daylilies I know by the first flower if I want to take a second look and I am sure in time with roses this will be the case. But with the seedlings selected I mark them with a colored stick if I want to grow them on and I will wait for them to all bloom or I give up waiting for them to bloom. Then I give the ones with sticks a number.

With crosses that are once blooming I have to make selection due to lack of room without seeing the first flower. My selection process here is to see how many repeat blooming roses I have to grow on then I figure out the number of seedlings I can still grow in my limited amount of space. This gives me a number I want to select. If I had more room I would not worry bout this. First I consider what crosses of these I find more important and a weight the selection towards these crosses if everything else is equal. My main points I select seedlings from are whether against heavy powdery mildew, and if it wants to grow.

As far as breeder codes there are a number of methods but the most common will have a cross, year and selection/seedling number. The cross number designates a certain cross so Baby Chateau x Tuscany Superb would be say number 05 because this is the 5th different kind of cross you did that year. While Robin Hood x Tuscany Superb would have a different number like 32. Another number is usually the year the cross was made so a cross last year would be 09. In the case of the Moore rose above I think the middle number is the year. The other set of numbers is usually either the selection number within that cross to go on to field trials or the place in which it germinated within that cross. The first method only seedlings that get selected to go on in trials will get a number so if there is 59 seedlings and only 2 get selected you will only have the number one and two. In the second case you will have one through 59. As far as the order I have seen a lot of variation. But there are other codes out there. Some breeder by the seedling codes you can tell what the parents are because they have it abbreviated or some of the numbers stand for a certain parent. I knew a guy how hand so many strawberry seedlings part of his code told where the strawberry was planted.

As far as records I would say at first take as many records as you can without wanting to kill yourself. After a while you will learn what level of record keeping you want to take. But I would keep at least some. Even those of use how have great memories forget stuff. and if you are like me you forget a lot of stuff.

Good luck with your endeavors. Oh and don’t get upset if your seedlings are not what you hoped for. My first two years have not yielded anything promising but the second was better than the first at least.

Jim your method is about the same method I use. My group number designates what my ultimate goal for that cross was. So scented foliage is one number and glauca foliage is another. But other wise it is the same. I like this method best. The strawberry breeder his seedling numbers looked like this 98-125-1067-98-sw12-ne13 which is horribly long. Which in this case was year-cross number-number of seedlings in the cross-seedling number- first plot location-second plot location. If the seedling got selected for further trials they would give it a brand new number and you would have to cross reference all of that. Good thing he had grad students to do that part.


Believe me, I’m not expecting miracles. All of my crosses for last year failed, so what I have germinating are all OP seedlings. It’s still interesting to see the differnces in stems, leaf texture, color, growth rate, etc. My neighbor has a couple of bee hives close by, so maybe a bug will give me an interesting rose.

I have a code system worked out in my head. I basically swiped the idea from some that comment here. I was curious more about when the recordkeeping begins for the seedlings. I have a simple database setup for crosses and the number of hips and seeds, but now that I actually have seedlings I was wondering how others worked through this.

I like the idea of recording everything and then working down to some more manageable system once I get some experience. Out in the hoophouse, each seedling will have a pot stick with the seed and pollen parent, but that’s about it right now.

I’ve printed the lineage from HMF for each rose that I have. That way I can spread everything out on the kitchen table and try to work out crosses. If I have a good record of seedlings that worked or failed, I could compare notes for future crosses.

Then again, maybe I’m making this more complicated than it needs to be.

The analytical laboratory where I once worked numbered each new sample sequentially as it arrived, using the decadal year as a prefix for the assigned number. For example, a sample in 1987 might be be labeled ‘7-1234’. Every New Year the numbering would start over using the new decadal year as the prefix.

However, rather than starting to count from zero the custom was to start from 1000. The first sample for 1988 was thus ‘8-1001’. The reason for this turned out to be obfuscation - to inflate the perception of the actual number of samples that the lab analyzed in a year.

My own system is to assign every cross (or batch of seeds) a number. Each seedling from the cross or batch that makes it to an individual pot gets a sequence number of its own, using the cross or batch number as a prefix. I’m up to 524, which happens to be R. virginiana x Veilchenblau. If all nine embryos become plants and survive an initial culling they will be numbered 524-1 through 524-9.

Well my seedlings got contaminated this year. I had a rugosa seedling come up with my Adelaide Hoodless seedlings (no telling how it got there). I had an Adelaide Hoodless seedling come up in my Mardi Gras seedling pot. This one I can at least attribute to heavy rains splashing the seeds out between adjacent pots. Next year I plan to germinate in one of those small plastic green houses to avoid this.

“I was curious more about when the recordkeeping begins for the seedlings. I have a simple database setup for crosses and the number of hips and seeds, but now that I actually have seedlings I was wondering how others worked through this.”

I follow the Moore coding system, which I believe you already know. When do I start recording data, and what data?

I believe Burling (Ralph’s assistant in the breeding houses) started recording the crosses as she performed the pollination. In other words, a cross was recorded and its number chosen based on the date the first pollination was made (I think this is how it was done). So, cross 01-06 was the first pollination made in 2006. Burling tagged blooms with the codes on them as she went, as far as I know. Me, I tag the blooms with an abbreviation of the pollen parent’s name (e.g. BV = ‘Brown Velvet’, MB = ‘Midnight Blue’, etc.) and apply the code numbering in the Fall, in the order that hips are gathered. Until then, they don’t have any code assigned to them. I just have parentage data in the form of tags on the hips. Keeping data about which crosses were made first doesn’t bring any important important information into the equation for me, so I stick with numbering the crosses as I gather them when matured. (Its no coincidence that ‘Joycie’ and ‘Golden Angel’ crosses are often the first in the spreadsheet every year!)

I don’t keep information about how many hips I got for each cross, since I pretty much know which plants are going to provide plenty of seed for me (and which do not). I certainly don’t keep data about how many seeds I got from any one cross! I sow tens of thousands of seeds…I can barely get them all cleaned and sown, let alone count them! Again, I don’t view this as important data for me. I know in my head how many pollinations of any one cross to make in order to get a sample size adequate for my needs.

Some people keep a database to record information about the performance of individual seedlings as they mature. I don’t. Maybe I ought to, but it would be for the sake of anyone researching my work later, not for my own benefit: I have no problem keeping track of how seedlings perform, since by the time any one seedling is two to three years old, I have a pretty good idea whether it has commercial merit and what its weaknesses are. Only a few seedlings from each season makes it that far, so there are never more than 30 or 40 at one time I am tracking seriously. That I can do in my head. :wink:

I never liked the numerical system for recording seedlings so I made up my own.

It’s easy for me to keep names in my head but not numbers.

I began by using initials that I could relate to the registered name of the parent.

For instance Lyn Griffith x Home Run could read LGXHR.

Once I decide to retain a seedling I can lose the “X” and it becomes LGHR, then I can add a seedling number (1)and then add two digits for the year (09).


I’ve gotten lazy since many of my seedlings are posted to HMF.

I don’t usually post the whole code name since it’s easy to post dates etc. using the net.

I find I am recording fewer seedlings to the net these days. In the beginning I thought it would be fun to illustrate to others how seedlings look when young and change over time. It seems few people appreciate the effort. It seems most would rather just look at pretty pictures.


Ive looked at the majority of them.


I’ve adopted my version of how you and Mr. Moore. I just put the year first, the cross and then the number.


I’ve looked at most of what you have listed as well as a number of others that post here. I like seeing the flower form and colors, but I also like seeing pictures of the shrub form.

After doing a lot of reading, I’m beginning to think that passing along or creating a well balanced and graceful shrub should be a primary focus and then the bloom. Just my inexperienced two cents worth.


“I also like seeing pictures of the shrub form”

Yes, so do I, but this requires time and SPACE.

As you begin exploring species and their hybrids you will appreciate the point I’m making. Many get quite large.

Most of the time seedlings are either discontinued before they can show themselves to that extent or blossoms are harvested and or used for breeding purposes which doesn’t make for many photo ops for demonstrating shrub form.

“passing along or creating a well balanced and graceful shrub should be a primary focus”

Or to paraphrase Moore, make a great plant first then hang a flower on it.

It’s all the same and easier said than done getting all the qualities we look for in one package and for all climates.

Below is a clip of my MS Excel database from last year. Since last year was my 13th year in the greenhouse (you can use whatever arbitrary year to start), the seedlings are designated as “M” seedlings. The first column represents the group, or order in which the groups were planted in the greenhouse. The other columns are self explanatory. “Seeds/Hip” is calculated by MS Excel as are the next 2 columns. I do a count of seedlings (data not shown) and from that calculate Seedlings/Hip and % Germ.

With crosses that are repeated extensively, there are a larger number of seeds that are planted.

Most of my parent roses are seedlings of my own. When a seedling of mine is given a registered named, I will usually use the registered name rather than its code name. In this example ‘Pearl Sanford’ was previously known as G16-2. It came from my 7th year in the greenhouse and was from the 16th group planted, being the second selection of that cross. Previously, I had used letters similar to what Robert does. Over time however, the codes can get rather lengthy. G16-2 also had the code name CHLYTRHTSRT. The letters represented the various parents that were in the ancestry ‘Pearl Sanford’.

You can see from the data that ‘Pearl Sanford’ produces a fair amount of seeds per hip (it is a mini) and has a good germination rate. I have found the “Seedlings/Hip” calculation to be useful because it gives a sort of “bang for the buck” statistic. ‘Pearl Sanford’ is my most reliable seed setter. If the pollen is fertile, it will set a hip - guaranteed. Therefore, the work effort to produce seedlings is very good with this one. The database also calculates the average number of seedlings per hip. For ‘Pearl Sanford’ last year it was 6.4, which is a good number. That means that for every pollination that I made, I could count on more than 6 seedlings coming from that pollination.

In the example below, the largest cross produced 1,447 seeds with ‘Pearl Sanford’ crossed by K147-2. K147-2 is a seedling of mine resulting from the cross ‘Gemini’ X ‘First Impression’. ‘First Impression’ is a yellow miniflora to floribunda type seedling of mine. That cross (M17) turned out to be a very good one as I kept more seedlings (43) from it than any previously. They ranged from mini to HT size (as might be expected given the parentage) and had a good color range. The first seedling of this cross that was kept received the code name M17-1, while the last seedling is named M17-43. These will be blooming for the first time outdoors in about 6-7 weeks.

Jim Sproul


Jim, that’s funny!

I’m now reaching the point that I can see I will have to alter my system in the near future.

I’m dreading it, but embracing change can be a good thing.

‘First Impression’ is a beauty!

It really is a challenge trying to decide whether to pursue exhibition form as opposed to species integration.

Right now I’m doing a little of both.

Hi Robert,

Yes, that’s pretty crazy! Although CHLYTRHTSRT is long, I realized that if I crossed that one with a similarly complex seedling, that I could be doubling the length of the codes with each generation cross!

Thanks Robert, I like ‘First Impression’ partly because I believe that it can go either way in crosses - toward exhibition types, or in the direction of shrub types. Keeping the number of objectives in rose breeding lower is the biggest challenge!

I can see that I made a mistake in the discussion of my last post. Seedlings in the M17 group, came from a cross of ‘Pearl Sanford’ X K147-4. That was the better (and larger) cross. K147-2 is a sister seedling of K147-4 (they share the same parentage).

Jim Sproul

Jim, I just got my first blossom of SABL1I892 X RBABDCAS today.

I guess SALB1I892RBABDCAS isn’t going to cut it this time.

After this season it’s going to become difficult to mentally process what’s behind some of my crosses.

As you might have guessed from the code name the seedling is a very dilute Hulthemia derivative.

Hi Robert,

Yes, I think that you have reached the limit! I still have some seedlings that I refer to by their letters when their code name is short. For example, RCHT I remember more easily than C27-2, and I know in an instant that it means ‘Roller Coaster’ X ‘Hot Tamale’.

One of the problems with using just letters though is where I have more than one seedling from the same cross. This is especially true when different sister seedlings are used in crosses. You can lose the ancestry trail even though you get to the original parents. RCHT is a non-striped semidouble mini with brighter colors than ‘Hot Tamale’. It has a striped sister seedling that became ‘Life Lines’. LYTRHT was ‘Heather Sproul’, but I have several from that cross that are used in the parentages of other seedlings (that is true of the above seedling K147-4, it has a yellow sister seedling of ‘Heather Sproul’ in its parentage). With the Excel database, I can reference each generation parent.

To be honest, at this point, I usually do not remember the full parentage of the more complex seedlings, but resort to looking at the database.

All of this has prompted me to start giving full descriptions and full parentages of the important seed and pollen parents that I have used in my breeding.

So, does SALB1I892RBABDCAS exhibit a blotch?

Jim Sproul

No blotch as yet Jim. Here is SALB1I892RBABDCAS. This is the first seedling to flower from this cross. I wouldn’t expect any as the Hulthemia influence is very dilute at this point.

I might try a line breeding to see if I can get it back. I included a link to another seedling that does exhibit a small blotch. All of these seedlings have too many petals to exhibit the blotch well.

I’m definitely going where no Hulthemia derivative has gone before.


Robert. I love your species mixes, so original.