Daylilies (Hemerocallis spp.) are popular for many reasons. These are easy-to-grow perennials ideal for borders and edging, tolerant of drought, unaffected by high temperatures, and able to grow in most soils. Let this be a guide to the most prolific part of your garden for years to come.
Cultivated in a variety of cool and warm colors, these flowers will mix well with any palette. The daylily is a wise choice for novice gardeners who often receive them as gifts from more experienced gardeners. Blooms come reliably in spring to late summer. While perhaps the most commonly known variety is the yellow Stella D'oro, daylilies come in shades of red, orange, purple, and pink ranging from simple "self" patterns (one color with potentially different colored stamens or throat) to more eclectic polychrome patterns (blooms of three or more colors).
Watch the resilient grass mounds give birth to strong stems, known as scapes, from which dozens or more flowers will bloom, each for about 24 hours. (Hemerocallis means "Beauty for a Day"--hence the name "daylily"). Throughout summer, more stems and likewise more flowers, grow continuously from the center of the mound.
Even though the plants are attractive to butterflies and hummingbirds (and, less excitingly, deer), they are toxic to cats and can lead to minor symptoms such as vomiting and lack of appetite to more serious conditions such as kidney failure and death. [Lovely Lilies and Curious Cats: A Dangerous Combination. FDA.gov] They are non-toxic to dogs or humans and, in fact, people can even eat most parts of the plant.
|Common Names||Daylily, day lily|
|Botanical Name||Hemerocallis spp.|
|Plant Type||Herbaceous perennial|
|Mature Size||6 in. to 5 ft. tall, 2-4 ft. wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun (tolerates part shade/light woodland)|
|Soil Type||Deep fertile medium loamy soil (tolerates light sandy or heavy clay)|
|Bloom Time||Spring to late summer|
|Flower Color||Red, orange, yellow, purple, pink|
|Hardiness Zones||3-10, USA|
|Native Area||Asia and Central Europe|
|Toxicity||Toxic to cats|
Daylily clumps can grow anywhere from six inches to five feet tall. As they can reach a span between two to four feet wide, space bare roots about three feet apart (or for a more dramatic show in the early years, space about 18 inches apart). Plant roots either in early spring or in early fall one month or more before a hard frost. In northern gardens, it's best to plant in the spring to ensure good root development during the summer before harsh winters arrive.
To plant, measure a diameter of two feet and loosen this area of soil. Dig a hole one foot deep, the size of the root. Amend with compost if the soil is poor. Plant the crown about an inch below the soil line, angling the bulbous roots outwards and a bit downwards. Add soil evenly and tamp to get rid of any air pockets. When the hole is two-thirds full, water generously. Fill the rest of the hole so that the crown is about an inch below the soil surface. Water again.
Daylilies love full sun, so make sure yours gets a minimum of six hours each day. In extra hot climates, some afternoon shade is will keep yours in good health (although do this knowing it may lower the number of blooms your plant provides). Darker varieties prefer afternoon shade in hot climates to help retain their color.
Despite thriving in all soil, daylilies would rather being planted in one that's fertile and loamy. Just make sure the soil is moist: sandy or clay soil may be too dry. Adding compost can help it retain moisture. Also ensure that the site is well draining to prevent root rot.
Water regularly in the first growing season. Moving forward, only water if the weather is very dry. Mulch helps retain moisture in the soil, plus it protects the plants in colder winter climates.
Temperature and Humidity
This is a tough plant that can stand up to most temperatures and a wide range of humidity levels. It would prefer about one inch of moisture per week, but it can also make its way through some dry periods relatively unscathed.
Most daylilies do not need fertilizer. Instead, add compost each season to provide added nutrients to the plants and amend the soil.
Types of Daylilies
There are thousands of named cultivars, but some of the most popular daylilies include:
- 'Stella D'Oro' is a reblooming daylily. Its flowers are of a rich golden yellow. They put on quite a show from early to midsummer and rebloom later in the season.
- 'Purple D'Oro' is another reblooming variety. It has lavender-purple flowers that bloom in summer and rebloom in the fall.
- 'Crimson Pirate' comes in red accented by golden yellow and a gentler sunny yellow throat. Petals are narrow and elongated.
- ‘Autumn Red’ is hardy in zones 2 through 9. It has large bright red flowers, yellow eyes, and striped petals.
- Citron Lily (H. citrina) grows three feet tall. Its sweetly lemon-scented flowers bloom at night.
- Lemon Lily (H. lilioasphodelus, H. flava) stems reach three feet tall, while very fragrant lemon-yellow flowers bloom early from May to June.
Unless you're looking to propagate them, avoid letting daylilies go to seed. As with many plants, seed production distracts the plant's energy from flower production. Remove any seed capsules whenever you see them and cut each scape to the ground.
Remove any yellowing leaves throughout the growing season. Doing so will encourage the plant to produce new leaves. If desired, remove spent blooms, too, by gently twisting the wilted bloom between your finger and thumb.
Propagating daylilies is done through division.
They should be divided every three or four years in either fall or very early spring. Divide no longer than five years to encourage prolific blooming.
To divide, dig up the plant. Remove excess soil, and place on a tarp or cardboard to minimize mess. Using a sharp knife or spade, Divide into smaller clumps. Make sure each section has a healthy clump of roots, and check that there are no weeds nestled in the roots, and then replant immediately.
How to Grow Daylilies From Seed
While it's possible to buy daylily seed packets, if you already have the plants growing in your garden, you can harvest the seeds directly from them. However, most daylilies grown in the garden are hybrids--meaning that the seed-grown plants will not produce true to the parent.
To do so, wait for a seed pod to dry on the stem to the point that is brown and about to burst open. At this point, snip the seedhead and remove the seeds. Store them in a dark, cool place in a paper envelope until you are ready to plant.
Before planting, subject the seeds to moist cold stratification for about 30 days. Then, plant them in a deep container such as a 16-ounce cup. If your seeds didn't germinate during the stratification process, they should sprout in about two to three weeks in the soil. Keep the soil moist and transplant seedlings to the garden in June or July.
Seeds can also be sown directly in the soil in the fall months.
A particularly fun part of growing daylilies from your own seeds is that you can experiment with cross-pollinating the plants and have new varieties crop up in your own garden. To accomplish this, simply use a cotton swab to remove pollen from one plant's flower and deposit it on the pistil of another plant's flower. If seed pods form, you'll have your own new cross-bred daylily to plant.
Daylilies pretty much take care of themselves in the winter. Dormant varieties generally lose all foliage after the first frost. If they don't, feel free to cut them back to just a few inches above the ground, or you can wait until spring at which time you can pull dead stems easily away from the crown. Adding a layer of straw or leaf mulch before winter temperatures really drop can help the plant withstand excessive freezing and thawing.
Common Pests and Plant Diseases
Daylilies are generally pest-free. Even rabbits tend to avoid them, although deer do tend to find the entire plant tasty.
Prevent the occasional slugs and snails from coming their way by picking up leaf litter around the crown of the plant. Check in early spring for any aphids around the first buds and check for spider mites or thrips in hotter weather. If any of these are found, clean with insecticidal soap.
Common Problems With Daylilies
Daylilies are strong, relatively carefree plants, but sometimes problems can arise.
If your plant's leaves begin turning yellow, the problem is likely not enough water. If the plants are getting less than an inch a week of water naturally, you will want to supplement so that they get enough.
If the leaves begin turning brown, it is probably leaf scorch, a non-deadly but common daylily condition that can be addressed by tinkering with the plant's growing conditions. You can also remove all dead leaves, or cut the plant back to the ground after it is done blooming to encourage new growth, if there is still time left in the season.
How long does it take for daylilies to bloom?
Newly planted daylilies can take up to two years to show their first blooms.
Where is the best place to plant my daylilies?
Because of their dense roots, daylilies do well on sloped areas where other plants might not be able to become established. They can also do fairly well in wet areas, as they can tolerate wet feet, but it's important that the soil be well drained to avoid root rot.
How can I eat my daylilies?
Pretty much the entire daylily plant is edible. The flower buds can be sauteed or battered and fried and will taste a bit like asparagus. The flowers themselves can be placed raw into salads. And the tubers can be boiled like potatoes and subsequently sauteed or mashed.