"Wow, I didn't Know daylilies looked like that!" Over and over this time of year, daylily grower and hybridizer Lee Pickles of Hixson, Tenn., hears those words.
People are used to seeing what he calls "orange ditch lilies" growing wild beside a road, and maybe they recognize Stella d'Oro - a small gold rebloomer especially popular in commercial landscapes - or have grown plain, yellow-flowered daylilies.
But when they're faced with an enormous raspberry-colored blossom, accented with a pistachio-green "throat" and romantic gold ruffles along the outer edge - well, it's hard to believe that it's a carefree plant.
But it's true. Daylilies are among the easiest flowers to grow, and modern daylilies - in velvety purple, sunproof red, silky cream bordered by burgundy, and hundreds of other choices - are just as effortless as the old orange ones.
If anything, they're simpler because they aren't invasive, as the others can be. And instead of one bud or bloom being at the top of each stem (called a scape), today's daylilies have "branches" covered with blooms, so they look fuller and flower longer. And while it's still true that each bloom lasts only 24 hours, many daylilies no longer confine their flowering strictly to daytime hours.
Pickles suggests that when browsing through daylily catalogs or talking with local growers, you ask about high-bud count (the number of flowers a plant typically produces), its branching (more branches equal more flowers), and bloom time.
It's easy to have daylilies flowering for at least two months - and, in many climates, again in the fall - by selecting early, midseason, and late bloomers, as well as rebloomers.
While daylilies will tolerate several hours of afternoon shade, they do best in full sun. Similarly, they aren't fussy about soil, but will produce armloads of extra flowers when the soil is amended with organic matter.
"I tell people that daylilies will grow without any help from them," says Pickles, owner of Chattanooga Daylilies. But he quickly adds a qualification: "If you want them to perform at their best, give them water (during dry spells) and fertilizer."
He applies slow-release Osmocote fertilizer in early spring and sprays Miracle Gro several times later in the year, recommending Milorganite for organic growers.
Plant daylilies anytime after frost in spring until about six weeks before the first frost is expected in autumn. Space them 18 to 24 inches apart.
Because daylilies are easily transplanted while in flower, a good way to find the plants that will grow and bloom best in your yard is to visit one of the 215 daylily display gardens in the US and Canada (find them through www.daylilies.org/ahs/AHSgardens.html).
Don't be surprised if some new daylilies (such as those hybridized by Pickles and pictured left) cost $60-$200. You'll be able to find an abundance of excellent plants in the $5 to $25 range, he promises.
To learn more:
*"Daylilies, the Perfect Perennial," by Lewis and Nancy Hill (Storey Books).
*"Daylilies for the Garden,"
by Graeme Grosvenor (Timber Press); good for international gardeners.
*American Hemerocallis Society, www.daylilies.org
*Daylily Web sites, http://daylily.net/daylilylinks.htm
*Adventures in Daylilies,
*Judy Lowe, the Monitor's garden editor, has a lavender and lime ruffled daylily named after her.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society