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Wheat Breeding - Home Gardener

I planted some Red Fife in my small garden this last Oct and it is now putting out spiketes (May 20+). Can someone give me some instructions as to how to hand pollenate between different plants without having to pull up all the other plants? I want to see if I can breed a shorter, more wet tolerant plant for the West Coast of British Columbia, Canada.

I am new to all this and don't even know the anatomy of wheat at this point. Pictures would really help.

Thanks, Beachside

Hi Beachside,

You may be interested to visit the GRIN website to request samples of wheats that have evolved in wet climates to screen, select and evaluate.


I am also seeking instructions for manual cross pollination. Suggestions welcome.

Eli Rogosa
Heritage Wheat Conservancy

THE reference for hybridization ("making crosses") is "Hybridization of Crop Plants" Fehr and Hadley, ASA-CSSA 1980. Fortunately for all, Dr. Walter Fehr provides this text of 52 chapters on the Iowa State University, Department of Agronomy, Raymond F. Baker Center for Plant Breeding's web site at:

Eli and Beachside, Chapter 51 is for Wheat but the first eight chapters are essential for everyone.

Note also that there are 2 other excellent plant breeding texts (Vegetable Breeding, and Principles of Cultivar Development) available at:

These texts are key references for plant breeders, and they are available online.

Eli and Beachside...interpret the instructions and perhaps produce your own, with color pictures, if you think you could make it clearer...and others could do the same with their favorite crops, much like Dr. Robinson's amateur potato breeding manual.


Hi Eli and Beachside,

My apologies for the delay in replying; I have been in Mexico where wonderful things are happening.

The standard method of crossing wheat is to wait until the anthers are extruded; they are then cut off with scissors, taking the tips of the bracts as well. If you need these anthers for pollen, let then fall into a suitably sized tube. Shortly after cutting, the stigmas will emerge. Insert the entire head into a tube containing the appropriate pollen and give it a little shake. Then cover the head with a small brown paper bag and label with date, and parent names/numbers.

But remember, using male gametocides in Brazil, Beek got a couple of million crosses with half a morning's work.


You will need to learn the names of the parts of the wheat plant so that you don't cut off the thingamajig when instructed to cut off the thingamabob. You will also need to know the growth stages. It is not necessary to pull up any plants. I won't say anything about your goal but you should do a lot of thinking about it again and again as it will guide your work. You can learn hand pollination using plants from a single variety of wheat but you should know that wheat is self pollinating and you will need to introduce genetic variation in some way either by crossing to other wheat varieties or grasses, by adding new genes to the DNA, altering the number of chromosomes, inducing mutations using high energy electromagnetism or chemicals or waiting a very long time for a lucky mutation to appear related to your goal.
Some of the parts you need to learn about are spike, floret, anther, stigma, boot

Wheat Pollinations
How to Cross Wheat

Guide Plant Breeding Technician IT/Working with cereals
Contents 1.6 Pollinations-Barley and Triticale

Parts of the Wheat Head

Anther, Stigma

Parts of the wheat plant

Growth Stages

Wheat Breeding but does not show pollination method


It is a good idea first to get some plant varieties that show variation in the trait of interest (ie: height, wet tolerance), by doing this you can select for the variation you want (ie: shorter, adapted to wetter climates).  You could acquire some lines from GRIN (Germplasm Resources Information Network) for small grains and test the lines for these two traits you are interested in.  It would be most advised to use varieties that are already adapted to your climate, so you should try to start there somewhere, adaptation is a major issue that could take many years in a small breeding program.  Once you get some lines, test them and make your crosses from there, make sure you replicate in the field, you could even grown them in pots in the winter and do your crossing there, this would enable you to get 2 generations/year (ie: twice as fast).  I believe crossing would be easier as well inside.  You should also look at Fehr's other books online, especially "Principles of Cultivar Development".  Hope that helps,