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The two best times for landscape renovation are spring and fall,
but sometimes time, money and motivation for landscaping projects
come together well outside these parameters. One popular perennial
is resilient, hardy and perfect for transplanting from the first
glimmers of spring into the dog-days of summer, and all the way up
to the first hard frost. That perennial is the daylily.
Daylilies (Hemerocallis sp.) are no longer the lanky, orange
flowered clumps normally seen growing next to drainage ditches on
country roads. Hybrids range in color from the palest cream to
burgundy red and red-purple. Plants come in small (24-28” tall),
medium (28 – 36”) and large (36” – 48”) sizes, with tetraploid
plants bearing supersized flowers relative to their compact size.
Bloom time begins in late June in the midwest, and extends well
into August. Everbloomers such as Stella d’Oro and her derivatives
provide non-stop flowering until hard frost; reblooming varieties
flower during mid-summer, then send up a second flush of flowers
around October. These aren’t your grandmother’s daylilies.
There are a number of uses for daylilies. A long, informal
border of lilies provides a soft barrier between yards, or offers
some privacy from the street. A more formal bed containing three to
five everblooming specimen plants can provide an island of bloom in
the middle of a well-kept lawn. Because lilies are exceptionally
tolerant of soil types and require little to no maintenance, they
can be used as groundcovers on steep banks that are difficult to
mow, or as foundation plants. Daylilies can even be naturalized in
dappled sun, or at the edge of a woodland garden. They may not
bloom as prolifically, but the plant will still look good.
What gives the daylily its rugged resilience? First, the roots
look like clumps of small bananas, and are strong enough to
penetrate even the most recalcitrant clay. Those finger-like roots
also hold water, much like a camel’s hump. This lets the plant
survive drought. The daylily will droop and yellow after extended
periods of drought, but it takes more than a few 100-degree days to
kill one that is established. Second, daylilies will self-mulch at
the end of the growing season. Those long, strappy leaves wither to
a brown mass, which gently covers the plant’s root zone and
prepares it for winter. Finally, daylilies are virtually disease
and pest-resistant. Japanese beetle invasions can devastate roses,
grapes and beds of zinnias, but daylilies will remain untouched.
You can purchase established, potted daylily plants or beg,
borrow or steal (the latter isn’t recommended) divisions at almost
any time of the year. The main rule of planting is: make sure the
hole you dig is large enough to accommodate the roots. Daylilies
like to spread their toes. Other than that, no special soil
preparation is needed. If you are planting during the heat of
summer, be sure to water well at the time of installation and keep
watering until new growth forms. If you push the envelope at the
end of the season, make sure your ground doesn’t freeze before the
plant has a chance to establish itself, which usually takes two to
Daylilies have cemented themselves into the American landscape,
and remain one of the most popular perennials with good reason.
Bargain-hunting gardeners should take advantage of the extensive
daylily sales going on now through September at many nurseries and
garden stores, or offer your neighbor some home-baked goodies for a
few divisions. Within a few years, your plants will be flourishing
happily wherever they’re planted.