Landscaping with Daylilies

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Few plants can rival daylilies for toughness, adaptability and easy care. These summer-blooming perennials perform as well in Minnesota as they do in Florida, and will grow in almost any type of soil. They are rarely troubled by diseases or pests and bloom for decades with virtually no attention. Today’s daylily hybrids offer beauty as well, with flowers that are pretty enough to deserve a place in your perennial garden.

Almost everyone has a few areas in their yard that are difficult to manage. A section where the soil is poor and grass refuses to grow. A depression that stays soggy after a rain. A steep slope that’s hard to mow or a rocky area with thin soil. Daylilies can transform these problem spots into assets. Read on to learn how you can put them to work solving a myriad of landscaping challenges.

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Easy Plants With Lots to Offer

The daylily’s botanical name, hemerocallis, means “beauty for a day,” and it’s true that the flowers rarely last for more than a single day. However, each plant produces multiple flower stems (also called scapes) with at least a dozen flower buds that open over a period of several weeks.

Most of the daylilies planted by home gardeners are hybridized versions of three species: Hemerocallis fulva (orange-flowered plants that have naturalized along roadsides) Hemerocallis citrina (fragrant yellow flowers that open in the evening), and Hemerocallis flava (fragrant, pale yellow flowers).

Today there are more than 15,000 daylily cultivars in commercial production. Flower colors include red, orange, yellow, pink and purple, with lighter and darker shades, bi-colors and tri-colors. Some blossoms feature contrasting colors in the throat, eye or petal edges. The flowers may be single or double, with petals that are wide or narrow, smooth or ruffled. There are compact varieties that grow just 12” tall, and others with flowers that reach chest height. The foliage can be thin and grassy, coarse and strappy or anywhere in between.

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Navigating the Choices

With so many cultivars to choose from, shopping for daylilies can be daunting. Here are some tips to help you find your way.

Daylilies are typically grouped by bloom time (early, mid-, or late), flower color (white to purple), height of the flower stalk or scape (6 inches to 4 feet tall), and flower form (trumpet, double, ruffled, recurved).

Start your search by narrowing in on the colors and flower forms that you find most appealing. Next, select a height that’s appropriate for the location. Remember that when a height is given, it usually refers to the height of the flowers, not the foliage. Finally, consider bloom times. Combining varieties with different bloom times will give you flowers from early summer into fall.

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Navigating the Terms

Fans: A single daylily plant may be referred to as a division, clump or fan. These names are used interchangeably. When a daylily is divided, it can be split into individual sections with one or more “fans” of foliage. A plant with 3 fans will be larger than a plant with 1 fan.

Diploid: Diploid daylilies have 22 chromosomes. These plants typically have medium-size flowers and a graceful, old-fashioned form. The blossoms may be single or double.

Tetraploid: Tetraploid daylilies have 44 chromosomes and display larger, more intensely colored flowers with stronger, sturdier scapes and broader, thicker leaves. The extra chromosomes may be due to natural genetic variations or artificial intervention by breeders.

Miniature: These compact varieties range from 12 to 25 inches tall. The flowers are usually smaller, too. These plants are excellent for small spaces, lining a walk, planting in the front of a perennial border or growing in containers.

Dormant: These daylilies die back to the ground in the fall. They survive colder temperatures, so are the best choice for northern gardens.

Evergreen/Semi-Evergreen: These daylilies retain their foliage and stay relatively green all year-round. They grow best in warm-climates with mild winters.

Reblooming: Some daylily cultivars will produce flowers in early summer and then bloom on and off right up until frost. Remove the faded flower heads to encourage re-blooming.

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Landscaping With Daylilies

Here are some of the many ways these plants can be put to work in your yard and garden:

Mass plantings. Daylilies are vigorous plants that multiply over time. Plant them a foot apart and they will gradually fill in to create a continuous border. When planting daylilies en masse, you can go with a single cultivar, plant blocks of two or more different cultivars, or plant a random mix of many different colors, heights and bloom times.

• Bordering a fence, stone wall or structure. Want your yard to look neat without a lot of trimming? Plant a strip of daylilies in those areas your mower can’t reach. They will form an attractive, weed-proof display.

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Drainage ditches and rain gardens. Like most plants, daylilies prefer well-drained soil, but they are remarkably tolerant of soggy soil. If you have a place in your yard where water collects after a heavy rain, or where there’s a high water table, plant some daylilies and let them give it a go.

Containers. Dwarf daylilies such as Stella de OroFragrant Returns and Little Grapette grow well in containers. Use large pots that are at least 15-18″ in diameter. In growing zones 4-6, you will need to protect the pots from extreme cold.

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Shrub borders. Daylilies can have a shrub-like presence and will hold their own when planted among woody landscape plants like spirea, potentilla, hydrangea and dwarf evergreens.

• Difficult slopes. Why struggle trying to mow a difficult area when you can let daylilies do the work? Prep the area for planting by using plastic or cardboard to kill the grass. Once the area is clear of grass and weeds, plant your daylilies and keep the soil covered with mulch until the plants have time to fill in. More color. Less mowing!

• Daffodil partners. Daylilies and daffodils like the same growing conditions and do not compete with each other. Daffodils provide early season color and after they bloom, the daylily foliage grows up to hide the fading leaves.

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Hemerocallis Big Smile

Planting and Care for Daylilies

Daylilies flower best when they are grown in full sun — at least 6 hours per day. With less sun, the plants will be healthy but you’ll get fewer flowers. To increase vigor and flowering, give the plants a yearly topdressing of compost or granular fertilizer.

If you purchse daylilies by mail, plant the roots within a few days of receiving them. Container-grown daylilies may be planted any time during the growing season. In southern areas, it’s best to plant in spring or fall while temperatures are relatively cool. In the North, plant daylilies in spring so their roots have time to get well established before winter.

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Before planting, take time to loosen the soil at least 12″ deep. Rake the area smooth and then space the plants 12 to 18 inches apart. Dig a hole for each plant and position the crown (where the roots meet the stem) about 1” below the soil surface. Water well to settle the roots. Then cover the soil with shredded bark or another mulch that will help conserve moisture and discourage weeds. Water as needed during the first growing season.

Daylilies are rarely troubled by pests or disease. Cutting or raking away the old foliage in spring, helps encourage good air circulation and discourage disease.

To learn even more about daylilies, read All About Daylilies.