Monday, January 23, 2017

Cheerleading Reblooming Iris Hybridizing: Zone 6

by Betty Wilkerson

It's winter.  Time for me to grab the pom poms and start cheering for irises and reblooming irises in particular. I tend to think of myself as the number one cheerleader for raising and breeding rebloomers for the colder zones!  Many of the things that rebloom freely in Australia and the west coast of the US of A, will not rebloom in my zone 6 garden.  I've tested many throughout the years.

Once again I will attempt to encourage and support young people to join the small group of people working toward better rebloomers and better acceptance of rebloomers in the colder zones .  Why not grow irises that provide a second, and sometimes more, round of blooms?

After some 31 years of trial and error and lots of research, here is what I propose might be the best avenue to pursue in a breeding program.  Since most, if not all, of the plant habits come from the pod parent, it is important to start a program with a healthy plant that is disease resistant with good branching and required bud count.  Use strong rebloomers with good form, like 'Lunar Whitewash,' 'Gate of Heaven,' and Wilkerson seedling # 2130-01Re, as the pollen parent.  It is thought this is the best way to pass on form while having a good chance of rebloom.

'Lunar Whitewash' (Innerst 2003)

'Lunar Whitewash' and a seedling (Innerst 2003)

'Gate of Heaven' (2004)

2130-01Re (Wilkerson seedling)

Some of my best parents for rebloom have been seedlings 2130-01Re and 2025-01Re and also 'Star Gate' and 'All Revved Up.'  

2025-01Re (Wilkerson seedling)

'Star Gate' clump (Wilkerson 2004)

'Star Gate' (Wilkerson 2004)

'All Revved Up' clump (Wilkerson 2007)

'All Revved Up'  (Wilkerson 2007)

Some irises with the strongest rebloom characteristics, like 'Over and Over' and 'Immortality' have a more tailored form. The solution to this problem is to use the irises with good form as the pollen parents, as stated above, while using the more tailored ones as the pod parent.  It's also fun and educational to do reverse crosses, or do the cross both ways.   'Over and Over' can give good form, too, if used with a more modern formed rebloomer.  I've a spot that 'Immortality' likes and I'm happy to have blooms each fall.

We would like to see more advancements within the rebloom group, by bringing them closer to the wonders of the more modern oncers.  It's a tough goal, but we need it to be done.  Just make sure your seedlings are an advancement of the rebloomer in your garden.  Keep the parents in your garden and compare yours to the best currently available that perform in your garden. I stress "in your garden" because only you have your growing conditions.

'Over and Over' (Innerst 2001 )

'Immortality' with Dahlias (Zurbrigg 1982 )

'Immortality' (Zurbrigg 1982)

Another reminder.  Rebloomers are going to be judged as garden irises, the same as the Dyke's Medal contenders. It will be rare that an early blooming rebloomer will make a show bench other than in the fall shows.  Typically we only have three fall shows: one in Region 4, one in California, and another in Georgia.  None in region 7.

If you choose not to work with rebloomers, at least make some regular crosses. One or two rows of seedlings across the back of your regular iris planting.  Some of the best irises have come from a small backyard.  You never know when something great may show up. 

In summary, I'd like to urge all people to remember the plant first and then their special interests.  It's really difficult, and frustrating, to bring plant health, branching and bud count back to your lines, so use a quality plant as the pod parent.  Some feel that rebloom counts as more or extra bloom. Personally, I think it's good to get a decent bloom count in both the spring and fall.  Will I hold back an otherwise good introduction due to slightly lower bud count?  No.  

Winter is a good time for research.   Read everything you can find about iris and rebloomers.  We need help!

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