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Past Articles Library | Growing a Perennial Favorite-Daylilies

The daylilies botanical name says it all.  The Hemerocallis can be translated to mean “a beauty for a day,” which describes the birth of the bloom in the morning and the death of that say bloom by nightfall.  While this may appear to be a negative, it really is not since each stem or scape is topped with a dozen flower buds.  These buds will not open all at once but instead will individually when the time is right.  This will allow the homeowner to enjoy several weeks of continuous color.

Daylilies are a perennial that unlike other perennials, are very flexible in the landscape.  The reason for this is due to their environmental flexibility and landscape uses.  Shorter varieties of daylilies planted along an edge make a beautiful and functional perennial border.  Clumps of daylilies combined with ornamental grasses and shrubs can add that special spark to any landscape. 

There are several different kinds of daylilies but three well known varieties can be easily found in fields and nurseries.  This includes the roadside lily (Hemerocallis fulva), aromatic lemon lily (Hemerocallis flava), and night-blooming lily (Hemerocallis citrine).  Most of the varieties you find in today’s landscape are a hybrid, which has provided a wide range of choices for the landscaping enthusiast and professional.

Today, daylilies can be grouped into several categories.  This includes flower color, which includes white, yellow, pink and purple.  Bloom times can also be different and include varieties that bloom all season including early, mid and late summer.  Stem or scape height, which can range from 6 inches to three feet and flowers on top of these scapes can be ruffled, doubled, trumpet, and recurved.

Daylilies can further be divided into diploid, tetraploid, miniature, dormant, evergreen/semi-evergreen, and reblooming.  Diploid and tetraploid both refer to the number of chromosomes, which can affect the number of blooms.  Diploid lilies have 22 chromosomes, which produce numerous but small blooms.  These can be seen as the old-fashioned daylilies and more commonly found in those with double blooms. 

Tetraploid daylilies, on the other hand, have 44 chromosomes, which produce larger and more vibrant flowers.  These flowers are supported on stronger stems or scapes.

Miniatures can be defined as those that grow as short as 12 inches and as high as 25.  They fit wonderfully in small spaces and container gardens while producing smaller flowers.

Dormant varieties are those that die back in the fall.  Most daylily varieties fall into this category. 

Evergreen/semi-evergreen daylilies are those that stay green year round.  These are more conducive to growing in the south while the dormant varieties work best in the north. 

Reblooming occurs in some daylilies where they have a big blooming period in summer.  This blooming can continue but will not be as showy as the first flowering.  This behavior will continue until frost.  To aid in this process, one can remove the spent flowers periodically.

Planting Daylilies

The first step in this process is site selection.  Daylilies do best when they receive at least 6 hours of sunlight daily.  But they also need a little shade from the midday sun.   This type of environment will encourage bloom production.

Once the light requirement has been met, the next step is to choose the correct soil type.  While daylilies are pretty flexible, they do better in soil that is slightly acidic, well draining, and high in organic matter.

After these two requirements have been met, it is time to plant the daylilies.  These bulbs can be planted anytime the soil can be worked.   To prepare the soil, till the ground before planting.  Once that is done, apply a good amount of compost to the soil and begin to dig the hole.  Daylilies require a hole depth that is deep enough so that the crown is 1 inch below the soil surface and wide enough so that the roots can be spread out and not in a bind.  For a dramatic look, do not plant your daylilies in rows like soldiers but instead group 3 to 5 bulbs together making sure to leave 12 to 18 inches between bulbs.

Once all the bulbs have been planted, water in and cover with an organic mulch.  During the bulb’s first year, continue to monitor the soil’s moisture and water accordingly.  After the first year has passed, this monitoring can discontinue since the bulbs will be established.

Daylilies periodically will need to be divided.  This needs to occur every 4 to five years.  To do this chore, one will first need to dig up their bulbs right after they have finished blooming or early in the spring.  If you choose to divide during the spring, keep in mind that the bulbs will not flower the first year.  After the bulbs have been dug up, one will need to encourage the fans to separate.  A fan is a group of leaves that can be seen growing out of the bulb.   A good fan should have 2 to 3 leaves and intact roots.  Once you have found the fans, cut apart as needed.  Cut the foliage back to 4 to 5 inches in height and plant immediately.  This will keep the bulb and its roots from drying out.

Companion Plantings

Daylilies by themselves are beautiful but if you are looking to complete the look consider companion plantings.  The key to companion plantings with daylilies is two-fold.  One, they need to have the same growth requirements and two; they need to be perennial in nature.  This will prevent one from damaging the roots of the bulb repeatedly planting, as one would do with annuals. 

Ornamental grasses make a wonderful backdrop for daylilies.  To add interest and continuous color, consider planting three types of plantings.  Ground covers such as creeping phlox and Basket of Gold alyssum will add that splash of color that can break up the color of the mulch and provide a continuous green carpet around the daylily even when the foliage has died.

Other bulbs can also be planted alongside the daylilies.  This includes cannas, tulips, iris, and Start of Persia. 

If you are looking for a larger specimen, consider a rhododendron.  This evergreen nature can provide interesting green foliage when everything else has died away.

While daylilies are viewed as an old-fashioned flower, do not take them for granted or consider them only grandma’s plants.  Their perennial nature and ease of growing make them a favorite for many homeowners.  But what takes them out of the old-fashioned realm is what is combined with them and that in itself is limited only by your imagination and plant requirements.


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