I recently started an iris garden and would like to learn how to hybridize my own irises.
—Kathleen Woods, Stony Point, North Carolina
Melinda: When hybridizing, choose parent flowers that have the characteristics you are trying to achieve. One will be the female parent (it produces the seeds) and the other is the male parent (to provide pollen). When the flowers unfurl in early morning, remove the three drooping petals, called the "falls," from your female parent. This reduces unwanted insect pollination. Then prevent self-pollination by removing the bloom's stamen—these are the male flower parts that look like pollen-covered pins. Now it's time to pollinate. Pick the stamen from the male parent and rub the pollen on the female parent's stigma. It resembles a vase in the bloom's center. If you're successful, a plump green pod should develop. Harvest this pod when its tip begins to split, and store it in a dry place. Once it's dry, remove the seeds and keep them in a cool dark location until planting time in fall or spring. Hybridizing flowers is an exact science. For more detailed information about hybridizing irises, read The Gardener's Guide to Growing Irises by Geoff Stebbings.