Daylily Has Humble Beginnings - Indiana Yard and Garden - Purdue Consumer Horticulture

Daylily Has Humble Beginnings

What plant started its life as a roadside weed, yet has managed to find its way into nearly every perennial garden in the Midwest? Despite its humble beginnings, the daylily has become the backbone of the flower garden palette for a number of reasons.

The daylily is easy to propagate, tolerates most soil conditions, is quite winter hardy, adapts to partial shade as well as full sun, comes in a wide range of colors, has a fairly long blooming season, and is almost free of insect and disease trouble. (Note the “almost”!)

The scientific name, Hemerocallis, comes from the Greek “Beautiful For A Day.” Originally from Eurasia, the lemon daylily (yellow) and the tawny daylily (orange) were brought to the New World by colonists and were quite popular farmyard plantings. The tawny daylily, especially, spread to roadsides, thus leading to its other common name, “ditch lily.”

Today’s modern daylilies come in a rainbow of colors and are the result of crossbreeding many different species. The color palette includes yellow, gold, red, orchid, purple, pink, orange and nearly white. There are also bicolored daylilies and ones with halos, “eyes” and other distinctive markings.

Not only has the color range been extended, but the shape and size of the bloom has a tremendous array of possibilities, including circular, star-shaped, spider-types, trumpet, recurved and double. We now can select from early, midseason and late-blooming cultivars, those that bloom at night, those that rebloom later in the summer, and even some with fragrance.

Daylilies are easy to establish. In fact, potted nursery stock can be planted in the garden virtually any time the ground is not frozen. However, spring or late summer are the optimum times for establishing a new planting. Dig a hole wide enough to accommodate the spread of the roots, loosen the soil, and then set the daylily so it is at about the same level it was growing in the pot. Water the soil immediately after planting to establish good root-to-soil contact.

Water regularly, according to soil and weather conditions; daylilies respond best when they are not lacking for water. Mulching around the plants will help conserve soil moisture as well as keep weeds under control.

Once established, most daylilies respond well to dividing – a technique that invigorates older plantings and creates lots of new plants to enlarge the flower bed or share with friends. The best time for dividing is either early spring, as new growth begins, or late summer, as temperatures cool down and rainfalls are generally plentiful. Dig the plant and look for clumping of leaves into what are known as “fans.” Cut the plant into sections so each new piece has at least one strong “fan.” Replant the fans as soon as possible to protect the roots from excessive drying. Watering immediately after planting is even more critical than with potted nursery plants to make sure roots and soil are in good contact.

Some daylilies produce seed pods after the flowers fade, if left in place. Unless you want to experiment with seedling plants, faded flowers and flower stalks should be removed before seeds are produced to ensure that all of the plant’s stored food reserves go to the roots so the plant will make a good showing next year. Seedlings can be interesting, but are almost always quite different from the parent and will take several years to become mature enough to bloom reliably.


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