For several weeks now we have been enjoying the beauty of daylilies. The plants are aptly named since each blossom lasts for only a day. In fact the botanical name, Hemerocallis, is even more descriptive meaning “beauty for a day.” That “day’s beauty” is multiplied many times since a typical plant produces 50 or more flowers during its blossoming season, and some newer cultivars last even longer than that and many bloom later in the season for an even more extended flower show.
The Chinese have cultivated daylilies for centuries, both for their beauty and as an ingredient in some of their recipes and medicines. All parts of the plant — from the tender shoots that appear in the spring to the buds, stems and tubers — are edible. They are often used in salads, stir fry, tempura, soups and more.
These flowers have been immensely popular. That popularity is attested by the number of varieties of these hardy breeders have produced. Those numbers have soared in the recent years. Before World War II, only three varieties hybridized from the original wild flower were widely grown in American gardens. Today more than 12,000 hybrids bred and collected by enthusiasts grace landscapes and collection gardens nationally.
Daylilies aren’t primadonnas; they will grow in full sun to light shade, adapt to less hospitable areas along driveways or other parts of the yard, blend well with many other flowers, and they aren’t finicky about soil types, although they do their best in well-drained loam.
They come back year after year unscathed by winter’s cold, sending up bushy clumps of leaves with stalks of flowers bobbing above them. They have no serious pests and can be left untended for long periods. What’s not to like?
Daylilies are perennials with tuberous, fleshy roots and arching, sword-shaped leaves. The lily-like flowers are showy as they open in branched clusters at ends of generally leafless stems that stand well above foliage. Stems range from 1 to 6 feet tall and flowers may be from 3 to 8 inches across.
Daylily fanciers have categorized these plants by their blooms. Miniatures are less than 3 inches across, small may be 3 to 4 1/2 inches while large are blooms measuring more than 4 inches.
Flower shapes are pinched, rounded, or ornamental, and these may or may not have ruffles on the edges. Some flowers are single, and others are double.
Colors are equally fanciful in every shade, tone, and tint possible, except pure white and true blue. The tetraploid daylilies are genetic variations with thick petals and deep colors.
Daylilies usually bloom for three to four weeks although that varies by cultivar. Newer varieties extend the display by sending up several flushes of flower stalks each season.
This is another way to categorize these beauties. Early plants bloom in late May and June, mid-season plants burst forth in July and later plants show their colors from August into September. These are not clear-cut designations of course since flowers may overlap bloom periods.
They are so pretty it’s tempting to bring the flowers into the house as a bouquet. They aren’t particularly good for that use since they have a short bloom time, but there are ways around the problem if you are anxious to do so. You might try picking the flowers at their peak early in the day and placing them in the refrigerator to slow closing. Bring them out just before you need them, put them in a water pick and place them in an arrangement. They should last well past midnight when handled this way
One of the nice things about daylilies is that they require little upkeep. Roots successfully compete with roots of trees and shrubs and they will expand indefinitely. After about five years, they may become root bound and should be divided.
It’s a simple matter of digging the plants, shaking the soil off the roots, breaking or cutting them apart into separate plants. They don’t need to be dug in the fall, since they are very resistant to cold weather.
Although the plants are adaptable to a variety of soil types and stress locations, they grow best in well-drained, average soil. They tolerate sun or shade well, but delicate blooms fade quickly in the sun. They blend into flowerbeds with iris, daisies and other perennials or can be used as edgings, in rock gardens or ground covers.
Soak plants for several hours before planting, adding liquid fertilizer to the water. Place the plant in a shallow hole with a mound of soil in the center. Spread roots over the mound and cover with soil pressing to remove air pockets. Although established roots are drought tolerant and need watering only when the soil dries out, newly planted tubers should be kept moist for a month or so. After that, water daylilies as needed and fertilize them occasionally. Remove the flower stalks after their blossoms are spent to improve their appearance. Most varieties can be left alone although some of the more vigorous ones bloom better if they are divided every few years.
Early feeding by aphids sometimes causes small warty bumps on the backs of flower buds or on the fans and leaves. The most common symptom is a yellowing of the new foliage, giving the appearance of nitrogen deficiency.
It is difficult to control aphids as they are usually protected by curling plant parts and contact insecticides do not reach them. For this reason a systemic insecticide is usually required.
Thrips are very small insects about the size and shape of an exclamation mark. They feed on small, developing buds causing distorted buds or streaking of the colored tissue. Control of thrips also requires the use of a systemic insecticide.
Mite damage shows up as whitish, stippled areas that eventually turn brown and die. Spider mites do not kill the plants outright. Instead, the plants look like they are dying of drought. Check for spider mites by shaking affected leaves over a piece of white paper. Watch the dust that falls on the paper. If it starts to crawl around, you have spider mites. Often washing them off is sufficient to break their life cycle. Spray the undersides of the leaves with water or insecticidal soap. If mites become more prevalent, use a miticide. This should be a last resort as miticides kill all kinds of mites — including the beneficial predator mites along with the plant feeders. Killing predators often results in an epidemic of plant feeding mites.
Slugs and snails are also very fond of daylilies feeding feed on tender young tissue causing ragged edges and holes. Sanitation, hand picking and baits are the most effective controls.
Grasshoppers also damage daylilies in areas where they feed heavily.
Daylilies are not prone to diseases in our warm, dry climate. Plants that are overwatered often develop crown rot. Grow daylilies on well-drained soil to prevent this problem. Unless a plant is rare or expensive, tubers that develop rot should be discarded.
Fungal leaf spots and blights are generally not a problem. If daylilies develop spots or streaks on the leaves, avoid overhead watering or move the plants to a sunnier location with more air circulation. If symptoms persist, remove the plants to avoid spreading diseases.