Daylilies


Daylilies are easy to grow and have an unbelievably large selection of flower colors and shapes.  There are few homes or commercial landscapes that are without daylilies, one of the top garden perennials.  Daylilies are suited to both beginning gardeners and avid plant collectors and breeders. Most daylilies are hardy in planting zones 3-9, so they can be grown in most areas of the country.

Most garden daylilies are hybrids of several species of Hemerocallis that are native to temperate Asia. These species have been turned into an unbelievable range of flower colors, types and sizes in the last 100 years.   Daylilies are easy to hybridize and people all over the country are breeding daylilies in the backyard as a hobby.  But you don’t have to be interested in breeding daylilies to enjoy them; they are the workhorse of the perennial garden.

The common daylily (Hemerocallis fulva) sometimes referred to as the ditch lily or wild daylily is an old variety of daylily of uncertain origin, and can be used as a garden plant. It can be quite invasive however, and tends to look bad shortly after blooming when it yellows and dies back.  It is a very old garden plant that escaped cultivation and the mystery of its creation has been lost.  It is self- infertile and never sets seed but the pollen can be used to fertilize other garden daylilies.  It spreads by rhizomes.  There is a double flowered variety also.

I have tons of common daylily and I do enjoy the pretty orange flowers.  However once you get them in the garden they can be hard to control and will take over vast areas of space.  I suggest using them in wilder, rougher areas where you don’t mind them spreading and using newer hybrid daylilies in the perennial border or beds.  After the common daylily starts yellowing mow them down and they will come back green and nicer looking until frost kills them.

Varieties and forms

Daylilies sell for a few dollars up to hundreds of dollars for new varieties.  If your budget can’t afford a daylily you see in a catalog, keep looking.  Chances are that there is an older variety that is very similar and a whole lot cheaper. Catalogs may overwhelm you with the selection of daylilies they carry and you need to get to know some daylily terminology to make good choices.  In the description of the plant you’ll see some abbreviations that indicate plant characteristics.  While some of these abbreviations are common in all catalogs you need to find the key that explains what the abbreviations mean in the catalog/on line site you are looking at.

The best daylilies have many flower stalks, called scapes, with branches that hold a lot of buds.  The size of a daylily plant with flower scapes may range from 18 inches to more than 3 foot.  When a daylily height is mentioned in a description it generally refers to the height of the plant with bloom scapes.

Try to choose an assortment of daylilies that bloom early, midseason and late or that are continuous bloomers so you’ll have flowers for a long period. The most famous of the continual bloomers is probably ‘Stella D’ Oro’ but there are others. There are also daylilies listed as repeat bloomers, which generally means 2 distinct bloom periods.  The bloom period is generally listed in the description.

Foliage descriptions are generally listed as dormant, the type of foliage that dies to the ground each winter or when conditions are hot and dry, semi-evergreen and evergreen. Plants listed as dormant  tend to turn yellow and die back soon after blooming, and are typically older varieties. Semi-evergreen foliage stays green most of the year in mild areas.  Evergreen foliage will remain green looking all year except in very cold areas.

The terms Diploid and Tetraploid seen in plant descriptions refer to the genetics of the daylily.  For gardeners who aren’t interested in breeding daylilies this isn’t very important. Diploid daylilies have two complete sets of chromosomes, tetraploid have four and if you get into breeding daylilies you’ll find other numbers of chromosome sets.  Diploid daylilies are easier to breed and there are more diploid than tetraploid varieties.  Most good pink, double and spider type daylilies are diploid.  Tetraploids tend to have bigger flowers, sturdier scapes and a more vigorous growth pattern.

Breeders have created all sorts of flower shapes from narrow twisted petals, to double flowers, to huge petals with ruffled edges.  Daylily colors range from the palest yellows and creams to reds, purples and mixtures of colors.  Despite catalog pictures and misleading names, there are no true white or blue daylilies yet. There are smooth petals, glistening petals, diamond-dusted petals, creped petals and more.  Diamond dusted and glistening daylily flowers have small crystals in the flower cells that reflect light and look like a drop of dew on the petal.

Some daylily flowers are open for more than one day, called extended bloomers.  Some open at night, and they are called nocturnal bloomers.  Some daylilies are fragrant.  These things are generally noted in the variety description.

Daylily foliage is grass-like, with a single deep rib running along the underside.  The leaf blades can be narrow or broad, depending on the variety.  The roots are fibrous and some may form white tubers, which store water and sugars.  From the clump of leaves long flower stalks (scapes) arise. 

Daylily flowers were originally trumpet shaped with the flowers facing upward.  Each daylily flower consists of three petals and three sepals that look like petals (except in double flowers).   Each typical flower is only open for a day, usually opening in the morning and closing by early evening.  Breeders have developed daylilies that open in the evening and flowers that stay open about 16 hours.  Since each plant normally carries many buds, the plants actually bloom for quite some time.  Some daylily varieties will bloom continuously all summer.



Growing Daylilies

Daylilies are purchased as plants and the larger the plant the more flowers you will have the first year after planting.   Daylilies should be planted in the spring.  Avoid planting or transplanting modern daylilies in hot, humid weather.  They tend to rot before rooting. The common daylily can be moved at any time and is very hard to kill.  I once took a box of rhizomes to someone who left them under a bench near a community garden and forgot about them.  They grew through and out of the box in a couple months.

Plant daylilies so that the crown, the area where the roots and leaf bases meet, is just at ground level. Flare the roots out in the hole and keep them well- watered as they establish.  They will withstand some dry weather once established but are probably not ideal for really dry, hot areas.

Daylilies will grow in almost any soil as long as it is not waterlogged. They prefer full sun, although some will bloom in light shade.   A light application of slow release fertilizer in early spring may aid blooming.  Keep daylilies well-watered, especially as they make buds and bloom.  Mulching cools the roots and keeps out weeds. Daylilies have few insect or disease problems.

Older varieties of daylilies tend to get yellowed leaves with browned edges soon after blooming and are not very attractive.  Newer varieties tend to stay green until cold weather (listed as semi-evergreen).  If leaves do yellow and look bad gently pull them off; it will not affect next year’s blooms.  Cut off any seedpods that start to form and remove the old stem back to its base.  Many people remove each flower as it dies, as the mushy remains are not very attractive. 

Daylilies will form large clumps after several years.  Unlike other plants they don’t need to be divided to keep them blooming well.  However, they may out grow their area or you may want to share the wealth.  In early spring as new foliage starts to grow, lift and divide the clump, making sure that each piece has at least one good set of leaves, or “fan“.  Some varieties of daylilies also make little baby plants on the flower stalk, where a branch joins the main stem.  These can be taken off and planted although it may take a year or two before they bloom.


Uses of daylilies

Daylilies make excellent plants for mixed borders and beds.  Small varieties can be used in containers.   Daylilies can be used as cut flowers if a stem with many full buds is cut.  Each flower only lasts a day and must be removed, but the buds will continue to open in the vase.

Daylily flowers are edible.  They can be added to salads, stuffed or battered and fried.   Chinese cooking uses daylily flowers in soups and other dishes.   It is said that moderate amounts of the young foliage can be cooked and eaten, but that large amounts will cause hallucinations and digestive problems.  Just make sure no pesticides have been used on them. 

There are some herbal remedies using daylilies, although the plant isn’t widely used medicinally.  The roots were sometimes used to ease pain in childbirth.  They are folk remedies for arsenic poisoning and cancer treatment, although no medical evidence supports those uses.  The flowers are said to be a treatment for hemorrhoids, but I did not find a reference as to how you are supposed to use the flowers- perhaps as pretty toilet paper?

Daylilies are an excellent addition to almost every garden.  The names alone will make you want to collect them.  How about ‘A Heavenly Flight of Angels’ or ‘Velvet Thunder’ or ‘Veins of Truth’ or ‘Amish Patch Quilt’?   Just remember many varieties are very, very similar to each other, and one can usually find satisfying choices that won’t break the budget.  If you don’t have daylilies in your garden it’s time to get some.

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