Garden glory: What a difference a day lily makes

Day lilies are the pasta of gardening. They are quick, easy, and always satisfying. Their no-fuss care and spectacular beauty - if only for a day - have made them one of the most popular of perennials.

Bob and Love Seawright, owners of r. Seawright, a day lily nursery in Carlisle, Mass., have seen the growing interest in day lilies firsthand.

For almost a quarter of a century, day lilies have been the specialty plant here. At peak season in mid-July, their fields also offer a brilliant show of some 700 varieties, from dainty white to blackish maroon. As customers scatter through rows in search of the perfect color combination, the Seawrights and their crew are never without shovel.

Customers point to a lily they like, and it's dug up on the spot. With so many varieties, it's rarely a quick decision. Will it be pale yellow "Atlanta Flirt" for $10 each or pink ruffled "Texas Dancing" for $20? Or maybe it's worth splurging on a dramatic new hybrid called "Stevie's Wonder" at $40. After the choice is made, then come the questions: How much sun? When to plant? What about spacing? Smiles appear quickly as customers discover they will be able to have a life and a beautiful garden, too.

Here's what the Seawrights tell them:

Planting time: Day lilies can be planted when frost is out of the ground. In the northern states, that's usually from May 1 to Sept. 15. In the South, they can be planted all year long. Transplanting them when they're in bloom is not recommended.

Use: Day lilies are excellent as ground cover, borders along fences and walks, and container displays.

Cultivation: Day lilies like at least a half day of sun. They prefer a well-drained location. They will grow in a wide range of soils. When planting, work up the soil with peat moss and manure.

Location: Day lilies should not have to compete with tree roots. Trees will rob them of water, as well as nitrogen.

Planting: Dig a hole large enough to accommodate the roots fully spread. Cover roots with soil to one inch above the crown. Water the newly planted day lily and each day thereafter for a week. Don't let the plant become too dry until it establishes itself (2 to 3 weeks).

After they are established, they may be left undisturbed. Or, your may divide and move them (or share them with a neighbor) every three to five years or so.

Spacing: General guidelines are for small plants 16 in. to 20 in. apart, for larger ones 18 in. to 30 in. Place the same variety in groups of three or five.

Fertilizing: In spring, work a handful of fertilizer (either 5-10-10 or 10-10-10, which refers to the mix of nitrogen, phosphate, and potassium) into the soil in a circle about 10 inches from the crown of the plant. Gently scratch the fertilizer into the soil.

Pests: Unlike their Asiatic cousins, which are attractive to the scarlet-colored lily beetle, day lilies are virtually insect and disease resistant.

Wintering: Day lilies easily survive northern winters.

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