Gardening Tips

The Carefree Gardener's Guide to Daylilies

Daylilies have many favorable qualities that endear them to gardeners. They're hardy, easy to grow and require little care. They're also stunningly beautiful, available in various shapes and many colors ranging from creams and pretty pastels to brilliant oranges and crimsons. With minimal care, they will survive in a garden for years.

To call them daylilies is a bit of a contradiction; they are not true lilies. In fact, they belong to the family Hemerocallis, a Greek word meaning day (hemere) and beauty (kallos). They are native to Asia, where they were originally used for food and medicinal purposes. Written records of the plant date back as far as Confucius, who died in 479 BC. Each daylily flower lasts just a day or so, hence, the name. Fortunately, each plant provides multiple stems with many flower buds, so each clump will bloom for weeks.

Varieties

When less-experienced gardeners think of daylilies, they may think solely of the old-fashioned, long-stemmed, orange-flowered type commonly known as tiger daylily (Hemerocallis fulva) that grows along roadsides. Given its fast-spreading and somewhat invasive nature, this type is less than ideal for the garden.

There are thousands of non-invasive, registered cultivars available, with the newer varieties usually costing more. Early-, middle- and later-blooming types are available. There are singles, doubles and even spider types with dangling, leggy petals.

Planting

Daylilies are easy to grow alone or with other plants. They're available in different heights (low, medium and tall), so carefully check the label to ensure any new additions will fit well in an existing bed. Because of their nature, it is often not preferable to not mix daylilies with other perennials. Instead, plant them with spring bulbs such as tulips (Tulipa), daffodils (Narcissus) and crocuses, which add color when daylilies start to grow. By the middle of the growing season, when the garden is starting to look tired, daylilies provide a glorious burst of color.

These plants require about six hours of sun per day, and therefore grow best in full sun or partial shade. While they can be planted any time during the summer, it's best to do so in spring to give the roots time to become well established. Dig a hole about twice the size of the root mass. Make a small mound in the center of the hole and set the plant in place with the roots spread on and around the mound. The crown should be at ground level. Place the new daylily at about the same depth as it grew in the pot. Firmly tap down the soil around the plant and water it well. Until they are established, daylilies benefit from regular watering. . They are easily divided in the fall or spring; simply dig them up and carefully split and replant them.

Care and Maintenance

Little maintenance is required. Daylilies are often described as being drought-tolerant but, in fact, they benefit from extra water, especially during dry periods. They also benefit from compost and mulch. The latter will reduce the need for weeding and will help hold the moisture.

Remove spent flowers daily. This not only improves the look of the plant during its peak time, but prevents spent blooms from interfering with new flowers. It also provides the pleasure of viewing the day's blossoms — with daylilies, the beds are different each day. Cut the flower stalks back when they're finished blooming. Fertilize in early spring when the plants are beginning to grow.

Winter protection depends on your zone and climate. After any hard frost, the plant will die back. It may be beneficial to leave the dead foliage intact to prevent ongoing freezing and thawing. Conversely, some gardeners trim off dead foliage in the fall to reduce the risk of damage from mice and insects. Trimming in fall also helps lessen the mess come spring.

Pests and Diseases

Fortunately, daylilies are tough plants that are hard to kill. However, total neglect, poor soil conditions and lack of sunlight can reduce their longevity As with other perennial plants, pests such as spider mites and thrips can sometimes invade buds. Good garden hygiene, including deadheading when necessary, will help eliminate them. If complacency sets in and older daylilies start to become, well, a little boring, be willing to part with them. Consider splitting them in spring and giving them to friends. It's a good way to get rid of old ones and besides, it’s fun to share your favorites.

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