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Growing daylilies, the perfect perennial

Daylilies are rugged, adaptable, vigorous perennials which can endure in our gardens for years with little or no care, and yet delight us with their beauty.

The scientific name for daylily is Hemerocallis. At one time they were considered in the lily family (which have a stiff stem with short slender leaves that whorl around the entire length of the stem), but daylilies lack the characteristics of lilies (they have long, slender grass-like leaves) and so are no longer classified as lilies. The preferred spelling is "daylily" as one word. The Greek word Hemerocallis is made up of two parts: hermera meaning day and kallos meaning beauty, referring to the fact that each flower lasts only one day. To make up for this, there are many flower buds on each daylily flower stalk, and many stalks in each clump of plants, so the flowering period of a clump is usually several weeks long. Established daylily clumps often produce 200-400 flowers in a season. Many cultivars have more than one flowering period.

Daylilies are sometimes considered the perfect perennial because they are available in a rainbow of colors and a variety of shapes and sizes. Daylilies are able to survive with very little care in a wide range of climates, suitable for all types of landscapes and adaptable to various soil and light conditions, drought tolerant when necessary, and have relatively few pest and disease problems. They will bloom from late spring until autumn.

The genus Hemerocallis is native to Asia. Since the early 1930s, hybridizers in the United States and England have made great improvements in daylilies. Many people are familiar with only the common yellow or orange daylilies which have a massive amount of leaves in relation to blossoms. Modern hybrid daylilies have a remarkable diverse color range, especially considering the wild types from which they have been bred. Today we have colors ranging from near-whites, pastels, yellows, oranges, pinks, vivid reds, crimson, purple, nearly true-blue and fabulous blend of colors. Today, the only colors notably lacking are pure white and pure blue. Needless to say, hybridizers are avidly pursuing these two colors.

While daylilies will tolerate light shade, they flower best with a minimum of six hours of direct sun per day. Daylilies are also drought tolerant, however for a good performance they need sufficient quantities of water. The general rule is one inch of water every week so that the water soaks deep into the ground. If they do not get sufficient water they will have less blossoms and smaller bloom size. Although they are adaptable to most soils, they do best in a slightly acidic, moist soil that is high in organic matter and is well drained. To thrive well daylilies benefit from a single application of 10-10-10 fertilizer in the spring.

Daylilies can be planted almost any time the soil can be worked. The soil should be deeply tilled before planting. Work well-rotted manure or compost into the soil to increase organic matter. Daylilies are vigorous growers and can be divided every three to four years. The best time to transplant or divide plants is early spring or immediately after flowering. Plants divided in the spring may not bloom that same summer. Divisions should have two to three stems or fans of leaves with all roots attached. Make divisions by digging the entire plant and gently pulling the fans apart. This is also an opportunity to get rid of grass which may be growing in the clump. Cut the foliage back, leaving only five or six inches. Place the plant in the soil so the crown (the portion where the stem and root meet) is one inch below the ground line. Water thoroughly after planting. A winter mulch of straw or shredded leaves helps ensure against winter injury for unestablished plants.

Guidelines to follow when spacing daylilies are small flower and miniatures should be16 to 24 inches apart. Large flower daylilies should be 18 to 30 inches apart. Some varieties increase very rapidly and will become crowded over time. The closer they are planted the quicker they become crowded.

Deadheading is important so that daylilies do not go to seed and so all the energy from the leaves goes back down into the root for next seasons growth. Cut away flower scapes after all buds have opened, and remove yellow or dead leaves to keep the plant well groomed. Well established daylilies can be left in the fall until the foliage freezes. The tall grass-like foliage when left, acts as a cold-insulator and kind of a natural mulch. The dead foliage can be removed in the spring after the danger of freezing is past.

Kyle Schulz is a Wadena County Master Gardener from Sebeka, and the regular gardening columnist for the Wadena Pioneer Journal.