If you're like most folks in the South, your earliest memory of a daylily is probably at your grandmother's house, where long sweeps of orange flowers burst into bloom at the height of summer. It's the same today. Just when you notice the summer heat, daylilies begin to send out their long flower stalks. Soon the yard is filled with giant, colorful blooms, each lasting just a day.
While some things have changed since your grandmother first planted her roadside lilies, the bright blooms still add beauty and happiness to our summer days. But now, there are more types of daylilies than can fit into an encyclopedia, and they're just as easy to grow and propagate as they were generations ago. Jim Massey of Holly Hill Daylily Farm in Moncure, North Carolina, says, "Anyone can grow daylilies; they thrive on benign neglect." The only thing that's changed is the variety of beauty waiting to be discovered.
The Wide World of Options
While there are currently more than 50,000 named daylily selections, there are really only a few important differences between them all. Knowing what these distinctions are will help you to match your growing conditions and preferences with the right daylily.
Shape of the Flower
The most important thing to consider when selecting a daylily for your garden is also the easiest: Do you like the bloom? A daylily flower can appear rounded, triangular, star-shaped, or in a spider form. It can also have a plain appearance (tailored) or a ruffled look. With all these options, it seems that there are an infinite number of combinations, one of which is bound to suit your fancy. Newer hybrids are opening up the possibilities even more with double blossoms, night bloomers, longer bloom times, and even fragrant selections.
Time of Bloom
Planting the right daylilies to create a steady stream of flowers for the entire season is an easy way to get a big show of color in your yard. While the climate affects exactly when a plant will bloom, breeders now offer a wide spectrum of plants that flower from midspring all the way to the first frost.
At a Glance
Sun: full to partial sun
Bloom time: about three weeks
Soil: any well drained
Fertilizer: compost or a granular 8-8-8 product
Pest: daylily rust. Plant resistant selections. Or remove and burn foliage, and spray with fungicide.
Divide: In spring or fall, cut them into clumps of two or three, and replant. (New divisions may not bloom the first year.)
Traditionally, most daylilies send up their green sword-shaped leaves each spring. They bloom and then die back completely in the winter. These are called dormant selections, and they grow best in the Upper South where the cold winters would damage any exposed foliage. In the Middle to Lower South, it's possible to grow evergreen selections, with leaves that stay green all year. A more recent trend in breeding has focused on semievergreen daylilies. These die down and lose some of their leaves but retain enough foliage to be seen year-round. The majority of new selections are semievergreen, which are usable in the widest range of growing conditions.
Places They Look Great
There are a number of ways to add these plants to your landscape. As Jim says, "The only way daylilies won't be beautiful in your yard is if you don't plant them. It's that simple."
The classic look for daylilies is planted en masse, either along a pathway or drifting through a border. Mass plantings are good for erosion-prone sites, such as hillsides or gullies, and stand up to the harshest conditions. Daylilies also look great scattered throughout a perennial border. Try grouping plants in clumps of three or five for a natural feel that fits in with the other perennials. The only rule to follow is keeping taller plants in the back and allowing enough room for each clump to thrive (place about 3 feet apart).
Put Them in the Ground
Daylilies are some of the easiest perennials to plant and maintain in the South. Select a spot that gets at least six hours of sun with a little protection from afternoon heat. Dig a 1-foot-deep hole, and create a small mound in the middle. Place the plant in the ground on top of the mound, and drape the roots around the side. Backfill the hole with a mixture of compost and topsoil. Make sure that the crown of the plant is slightly above the original soil surface, and water in thoroughly.
Find the Right One
The best place to buy daylilies is anywhere that you can see them in bloom. There is really no other way to know you're getting a plant you'll be happy with unless you've seen it in bloom. For this reason, daylily farms have sprung up all over the South and offer a dazzling array of flowers. At Holly Hill Daylily Farm, Jim has more than 2,000 named selections that you can choose from while strolling through his fields. "It's not just a daylily farm," Jim says. "It's really more like a carnival with all these beautiful blooms casting a spell over you. I was so smitten by the beauty of the flowers that I ended up buying this farm just to have a place to plant them!"
"Dazzling Daylilies" is from the June 2004 issue of Southern Living.