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Diggin' It

Daylilies: The nearly perfect perennial

No perennial plants are easier to grow or more rewarding than daylilies.

By Karan Davis Cutler / August 20, 2011

Frans Hals daylily features lemon- and cinnamon-colored petals. A long-time favorite dating to the early 1950s, its flowers are 5 inches wide.

Courtesy of Karan Davis Cutler

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After having fun with the some of the wacky names people give daylilies — see my “Daylilies Are Wonderful Flowers, But, Oh, Their Names,” — I confess that I am a card-carrying member of the Daylily Admiration Society.

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Here in Vermont — and nearly everywhere else in North America — there is no perennial that is so easy and rewarding to grow.

Daylilies have many assets

Assets? Daylilies are tolerant and undemanding. They are immune to nearly all pests and diseases. They like sun, fertile soil that drains well, and adequate moisture, but can thrive in much less than ideal conditions. Good neighbors in the garden, they spread easily but not aggressively, and are easy to divide.

More assets? Breeders, beginning in the 1930s with the patron saint of daylilies, Dr. A.B. Stout, have kept busy creating new flower colors, forms, and sizes, as well as better heat- and cold-tolerance.

By increasing the number of chromosome sets in plant cells, hybridizers are giving us sturdier and more vigorous plants with more flowers with more intense colors. With close to 70,000 named cultivars, there are more than enough to choose from unless you’re gardening on a colossal scale.

The daylily’s genus name — Hemerocallis, which means “beauty for a day” in Greek — warns of one liability of this perennial: Each blossom lasts only one day.

Flower scapes, or stems, however, are loaded with buds, so plants normally bloom for a month -- some longer -- and there are extra early, early, mid- and late-blooming cultivars, when means the daylily season can last three months and longer.

To compensate for that one-day characteristic, breeders have created a truckload of reblooming daylilies, cultivars that flower, take a quick breather, and flower again, albeit less generously the second or third time.

They’re also known as everblooming, repeat flowering, recurrrent blooming, continuous blooming, and, wrongly, extended daylilies.

Extended daylilies, such as ‘Strawberry Candy’ [see second photo above; click on arrow at right base of first photo], are cultivars that remain open more than one day, at least 16 hours.

There also are nocturnal daylilies, cultivars that open in the afternoon and close in the morning. ‘Olallie Sandra’, ‘Black-Eyed Stella’, and ‘White Temptation’ are three, making them ideal for moonlight gardeners.

Historically, another mark against daylilies as a group is that they had no fragrance. But savvy breeders also have been at work on this flaw, and now there are a sizable number of fragrant cultivars, including ‘Pretty in Pink’, ‘Betty Davis Eyes’, which is also an extended bloomer, and ‘Bonanza’.

Be warned, though, that old-time favorites like ‘Frans Hals[see first photo above] do not smell as good as they look.

Last, there are no pure blue or pure white daylilies. But there are gorgeous reds, purples, pinks, oranges, yellows, golds, creams, and pastels, as well as bicolors galore. Only the most picky colorist — which I am not — would complain.

Good time to plant new daylilies

Why write about daylilies just as most have stopped flowering? As long as they have time to establish their roots before the ground freezes, daylilies are happy to be planted in late summer and fall. And this is the time that plants at local nurseries — and at some nursery websites — go on sale.

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