When talk turns to surefire perennials for the South, it doesn't take long for the word daylily to come up. Few plants offer so many flowers in so many colors for so little care. Tuberous, somewhat fleshy roots give rise to large clumps of arching, sword-shaped leaves that may be evergreen, semievergreen, or deciduous, depending on selection.
Clusters of flowers resembling lilies appear at the ends of generally leafless, wandlike stems that rise well above the foliage. Each daylily flower stays open for only one day, hence the name daylily (the genus name comes from the Greek words for day and beauty). Most daylilies bloom once a year, producing numerous flowers over a 3- to 6-week period. Other types may bloom again later in the summer and are called rebloomers.
Mass daylilies in solid sweeps, or mix them into herbaceous borders. Plant them on banks and roadsides, or group them near pools and streams. Dwarf types are excellent in rock gardens and containers or as low edging. Because the individual blooms close each evening, daylilies are not great cut flowers. But if you cut stems with well-developed buds, these will open on successive days, though each blossom is slightly smaller than the previous one.
Set out bare-root or container-grown plants anytime the ground isn't frozen. Preferred times for planting are spring or fall. If deer are plentiful in your area, be warneddeer love most daylilies.
H. altissima. TALL DAYLILY. Deciduous. From China. To 56 ft. tall, 3 ft. wide. Blooms in late summer and early autumn; the pale yellow, 4-in. flowers give off a light perfume at night. 'Statuesque', with 5-ft. stems, blooms in mid- to late summer.
H. citrina. CITRON DAYLILY. US, MS, LS, CS; USDA 6-9. Deciduous. From China. To 34 ft. high, 1122 ft. wide. Blooms in midsummer, bearing fragrant, narrow-petaled, soft lemon-yellow flowers to 3 in. across that open in early evening and last until noon the next day. Leaves are longer and narrower than those of most daylilies.
H. fulva. TAWNY DAYLILY, COMMON ORANGE DAYLILY. Deciduous. From China or Japan. To 35 ft. high and 4 ft. wide; quickly spreads into colonies. Leaves are 2 ft. or longer. Tawny, orange-red, 3- to 5-in., unscented flowers in summer. A tough, persistent plant suitable for holding banks; rarely sold but commonly seen in old gardens and along roadsides. Double-flowered 'Kwanso' and 'Flore Pleno' are sometimes seen in the same locales.
H. hybrids. Deciduous, evergreen, and semievergreen. Standard-size hybrids generally grow 2124 ft. tall, 23 ft. wide; some selections reach 6 ft. high. Dwarf types grow just 12 ft. tall and wide. Flowers of standard kinds are 48 in. across, those of dwarfs 112312 in. wide. Some have broad petals, others narrow, spidery ones; many have ruffled petal edges. Colors range far beyond the basic yellow, orange, and rusty red to pink, vermilion, buff, apricot, plum or lilac purple, cream, and near-white, often with contrasting eyes or midrib stripes that yield a bicolor effect. Many are sprinkled with tiny iridescent dots known as diamond dust. Selections with semidouble and double flowers are available. Tetraploid types have unusually heavy-textured petals.
Bloom usually begins in mid- to late spring, with early, midseason and late bloomers available. The warmer the climate the earlier the season starts. By planting all three types, you can extend the bloom period for up to two months. Reblooming types may put on a second or even third display in late summer to midautumn. These include 2-ft.-high dwarf selections such as bright yellow 'Happy Returns', bright gold 'Stella de Oro', and burgundy 'Pardon Me'.
New hybrids appear in such numbers that no book can keep up. To get the ones you want, visit daylily specialists, buy plants in bloom at your local nursery, or study catalogs.
H. lilioasphodelus (H. flava). LEMON DAYLILY. Deciduous. From China. Reaches 3 ft. high and wide, with 2-ft.-long leaves and 4-in., fragrant, pure yellow flowers in mid- to late spring. Newer hybrids may be showier, but this species is still cherished for its delightful perfume and early bloom time.
H. minor. GRASS-LEAF DAYLILY. Deciduous. Zones US, MS, LS, CS; USDA 6-9. From eastern Asia. To 2 ft. high and wide, with narrow ( 14-in.-wide) leaves. Blooms for a relatively short time in late spring or early summer, when fragrant, bright golden yellow, 4-in. flowers are held just above the foliage.
Daylilies adapt to almost any soil type, but for best results give them well-drained soil amended with organic matter. Provide regular moisture from spring through autumn. In spring, apply a complete organic fertilizer (5-3-3, 3-4-5, or similar) to soil around established plants. Follow label directions; be sure to keep fertilizer off foliage. Do not fertilize newly planted daylilies. When clumps become crowded (usually after 3 to 6 years), dig and divide them in fall or early spring.
Though otherwise pest free, daylilies are now threatened by a potentially serious disease, daylily rust (Puccinia hemerocallidis), which is primarily a problem for growers in the Lower South and warmer. First identified in Georgia in 2000, this rapidly spreading fungus causes yellow to orange streaks and pustules to form on the leaves. The fungus is killed by cold weather, so its impact has been negligible in areas that receive freezing temperatures. To control, pick off and burn all infected leaves; then spray at regular intervals with a recommended product according to label directions. Consult with your local Cooperative Extension Office for product recommendations.