Day Lilies – A Treasure

Lori Murray, Special to the Star

By Lori Murray, Special to the Star

For any gardener, but particularly for a novice gardener, daylilies are a great choice. They grow quickly and will tolerate just about any kind of soil, they will tolerate more water than many plants, and will grow in sun or shade; and they grow as well in deep South Texas as they do in Minnesota. These long-lived beauties reward you with big beautiful blooms in a variety of colors.

There are now more than 80,000 cultivars available and they offer a wide range in height (6 inches to 3 feet tall), color (white, yellow, pink, purple, orange), bloom time (early, mid- and late season), and flower form (trumpet, double, ruffled, recurved). They are relatively pest-free and require little regular attention.

So what’s the down side?

Daylilies’ botanical name is Greek, Hemerocallis, and means “beautiful day” or “beauty for a day,” and most daylilies do open in the morning and die by nightfall. Their saving grace, however, is that there is more than one bloom on a stem (called a scape), so the plant stays in bloom for numerous days. The flower can even be used in indoor arrangements if you don’t mind pinching off the dead bloom each day as a new one replaces it.

Daylilies have many different – and low maintenance – uses. Short, compact varieties make good perennial borders for a flower bed. In our climate they will stay green and attractive all year. In small groups taller ones can be paired with ornamental grasses or small shrubs to create a focal point in your landscape. They are excellent for mass plantings along a fence or walkway where they make a thick, weed-proof display. Daylilies can also solve a problem if you have a sloping area that is hard to mow. Their root system is very thick and can not only cut down on erosion but can also choke out most weeds.

So, where to begin? Choose your bulbs. You can either have a specific purpose or need in mind or you can just think the bloom is pretty and that it will fit a particular place in your garden. My first daylilies were a gift from a former baby-sitter (Thanks, Belinda!) and I have proven all the information about daylilies true as I have ignored them since I first put them in the ground, and they are positively thriving!

Whatever your source for daylilies, be sure the plant will be what you want it to be – i.e. one that will bloom several times, or bloom in mid-summer, or bloom late in the season (or choose cultivars that bloom at different times, and have daylilies blooming through most of the summer); is it the correct height for the location you plan to plant it? Is the color the one you want?

Planting is not difficult. First dig your dirt about a foot deep. Mix in several handfuls of compost and some all-purpose granular fertilizer. Put the daylily in the hole so the crown of the plant (where the roots meet the stem) is about an inch below the soil line. Cover the roots with soil. Water well. Remember too that although daylilies will tolerate many different conditions, they, like most plants, will grow best in good soil with adequate water and good drainage. Mulching is a good idea initially as the plants take a little more care their first year.

What about after they bloom? Maintenance is not difficult. Remove each flower from the scape as it dies. When all the flowers are gone, cut the scape back to the ground. This will keep the bed tidy and will also prevent the plant from using its energy to produce seeds. Most sources suggested an annual light fertilization early in the spring, so I tried it this year and was rewarded with earlier blooms than in previous years. I’ve also added just a bit of phosphorous to their soil this week to encourage more blooms. The jury’s still out on that action.

A search of the aggie horticulture website provided a list of daylilies recommended for beginners plus information on general care. This is a good source of information more suited to our area than what I found in other online locations.

One wonderful thing about daylilies is that they need to be divided about every 5 years. This means that if you have a friend with a variety you like, you can probably convince them to share their good fortune. Since some cultivars (but not many, thank goodness) sell for as much as several hundred dollars, there can be a true saving grace in your friendships! When your own plants are about this age (you’ll know it’s time because they’ll not be blooming as profusely), you will want to choose a time in the very late summer or early fall to dig up the entire plant.

Put it aside on a tarp or paper to keep your yard neat. Cut or pull the clump apart into manageable mini-clumps. Some sources said to cut the clump apart with a very sharp shovel or knife, but I don’t know if that would be necessary since I have not separated mine yet. Another source suggested using very large forks to separate the bulbs. At any rate, if it doesn’t pull apart, cut it; you’re not going to kill it. Trim the foliage back to about six inches and replant. You will now have more bulbs than you need, so you can share them with your not-so-lucky friends who have been admiring your blooms.