Last summer I decided to have a go at breeding my own dahlias for the first time. I had been growing named varieties for two seasons and saved seeds from my plants towards the end of autumn last year.
The flowers were open pollinated by bees. I didn't cover them with organza bags and hand-pollinate them. The advantage of doing it that way is that you can choose just two varieties you want to cross and the organza bags prevent the bees from interfering with that and continuing to cross-pollinate from other plants. The way I did it is more of a lucky dip but the advantage is you might get something even more interesting! The other way you could do it is to plant the varieties that you want to cross next to each other but not use organza bags. Let the bees do their work and hope for the best!
This year I let mother nature do its work but if I am able to save seeds from my dahlias this season (and that's a pretty big if because there has been so much rain in Auckland that I'm not sure if the pods will contain viable seeds as they ideally need to be very dry when harvested) I might use organza bags and hand-pollinate varieties I'm keen on crossing. It's a lot of work but I won't be doing an edible garden next season which frees up some of my time. After a decade of gardening so intensively, I'm having a sabbatical! I would love a bit more time to myself to spend on my other hobbies, namely the gym, swimming and running. I won't be downing tools entirely though as I want to keep the garden tidy, which is always challenging as it has expanded so much over the years. It also enables me to concentrate on just a couple of activities, namely the daffodils in winter and dahlias in summer. I might even try to breed daffodils, which another gardener once suggested to me. Gardening certainly isn't boring and there are always new ways you can challenge yourself once you have learnt the basics.
As for these seedlings, towards the end of autumn I will be lifting the tubers and storing them carefully over winter. All going well (ie no rotting and gall), I will plant them in late spring. I need to grow these on for three years to allow the characteristics of the plant to stabilise. If they're keepers, then I will give them a name which will be very exciting! I wasn't going to keep all my dahlia seedlings in the breeding programme as there are many of them and it's a lot of work storing and caring for dahlias over winter plus I do have lots of named varieties as well but I don't have the heart to cull them at this stage. But in time I will have to be more ruthless otherwise I'm going to run out of space in the garden!