By Steve Boehme
Daylilies are such a popular perennial we often take them for granted. We’ve all seen colonies of orange “ditch lilies,” also called “tiger lilies,” growing by the roadsides, but today’s daylilies have become very exotic with stunning colors, ruffled petals and complicated bloom shapes.
Daylilies get their name from the fact that each flower bud will bloom for one day and then wither. Healthy plants have many buds on each stalk, and multiple stalks on each plant, so they provide color for quite a long season even though each flower lasts less than 24 hours.
The daylily is often called “the perfect perennial,” due to its dazzling colors, drought tolerance, hardiness in many zones, and generally carefree nature. Daylilies make a terrific ground cover on banks and under fences, crowding out weeds. Most daylilies do best in full sun, but darker-colored varieties need partial shade because they absorb more heat.
Daylilies are so easy to cross-pollinate that amateur gardeners have been hybridizing them forever, and dividing clumps of daylilies is one of the easiest ways to start a perennial garden. There are over 60,000 registered daylily varieties, most of which were introduced within the past 100 years or so.
The first daylily to achieve mass popularity was “Hyperion,” introduced in the 1920’s and still available today. Hyperion is lemon yellow, extremely tall, and has a distinctive “spur” on each stem. It is stately and graceful, one of my personal favorites.
Another personal favorite, “Happy Returns,” starts with a full, compact, emerald green plant that looks like ornamental grass. By mid-May it’s covered with frilly, bright lemon-yellow blooms.
In fertile soil it will bloom until frost. Happy Returns represents the new trend of “re-blooming” daylilies, of which the golden yellow “Stella D’Oro” is by far the most popular.
So-called “re-blooming” daylilies give you constant color for the entire season, unlike regular daylilies. They will rest for a week or two after their spring flush, and then bloom sporadically until frost. The key to their extended season is constant expansion of the root system, since blossom production is directly tied to root growth. This is why newly planted daylilies will bloom longer; once the soil becomes exhausted they will not re-bloom.
To get the best performance from re-bloomers like “Stella D’Oro” and “Happy Returns,” fertilize with Espoma Bulb-Tone when planting and again during the summer.
A mid-season haircut, cutting the entire plant off at ground level, makes re-bloomers bounce back with all new foliage and heavier bloom. After a four or five years, dig the clumps up and divide them, mixing Bulb Tone or Plant Tone into the loosened soil.
You can cut through the matted clumps with a bread knife or a sharp spade, or pry them apart using two digging forks back to back.
Steve Boehme is the owner of GoodSeed Nursery & Landscape, located on Old State Route 32 three miles west of Peebles. To e-mail your landscaping questions click “Contact Us” from their website at www.goodseedfarm.com or call (937) 587-7021.