Culture

 
More information will be added to this page over time, but I wanted to give a general run-down on the everyday care and maintenance of your daylilies. I would also like to comment that one of the VERY best ways to learn more about your plants is to join a local club or society. Daylily clubs are springing up all across North America, and they are undoubtedly the best places to exchange stories, learn tips and discuss various methods of growing.


There should be a sign attached to daylilies when you buy them, saying "Caution! These plants can be addictive!" Over the past few years, what started out as a hobby has turned  more than a full time occupation for me! It's not difficult to get carried away by a plant that is hardy, weather tolerant and virtually pest and disease free! For those of you currently growing daylilies, or people who want to try some - the following information might be useful and interesting to you!


Daylilies are herbaceous perennials. Though a member of the Liliaceae family, they are not true lilies. They are sold as roots, not bulbs, and they multiply very quickly. Their botanical name is "hemerocallis" and is taken from two Greek words meaning "beauty" and "day" or "beauty for a day". This explains the flowering habit, with each flower staying open for one day, maybe two in very cool weather. This habit also has a tendency to lead people to think that in a few days, the plant will be finished! Definitely not so! Each flowering scape (the stem supporting the flowers) can carry 40 - 60 buds, and with a plant producing 10 - 20 of those scapes - that is one heck of a lot of flowers! And since daylilies come in a range of flowering times from May to October, a gardener can have a fabulous array of color throughout the entire season simply by planting a variety of different blooming-time cultivars!

Daylilies originated in Asia many years ago, and really did not become a popular plant until hybridizers in the United States started making great progress in producing different colors, heights and forms. Since about 1930, many thousands of cultivars have been introduced to make over a staggering 50,000 varieties to date! Daylilies are now available in all color ranges, with the exception of true blue, with an incredibly diverse range of forms - round and ruffled, elegant long-petalled spiders, and doubles that resemble carnations or roses. A great many varieties also carry some fragrance - usually the yellows or paler cultivars. Daylily foliage varies from the small grass-like fountain leaves of the miniatures to the wider and more robust leaves of the taller and tetraploid varieties. (Tetraploids being double-chromosomed daylilies). Also look for "rebloomers" - this being a variety that will flower midseason, July, then rebloom again later in the fall months! This is a wonderful quality that not too many perennials possess!

Daylilies are very hardy plants - which is why we recommend them to gardeners dealing with colder climates. Most are hardy to zone 2, although in very cold areas, we do suggest that you stick with the "dormant" varieties. Daylilies are listed in three categories - dormant, semi-evergreen and evergreen. Most of the cultivars hybridized in the southern United States are semi or evergreen. Dormant varieties have even been known to be better in the north as they like to take a rest during the cold season!  For us here in B.C. - we grow from all the categories with no trouble - simply by treating them ALL as dormants! The semi and evergreen varieties are simply a little more tender in cold weather, and a light covering of leaves or straw would be beneficial if you are in an area that gets below -15C.  They certainly don’t enjoy the winter, but they do return in the spring, albeit a little more slowly than the dormant varieties.

When the daylily clump becomes quite large, usually in about three to five years, depending on the variety - you will need to dig it up and divide it. Simply wash off the roots and you will see a root system that resembles fingers linked together! They are joined at the base of the plant or the crown. If the plant is VERY large, you may just cut it in two at the crown. If you wish to be a little more careful, then gently pull the fans apart. Each individual piece of the plant is referred to as a "fan". Each fan will have their own root system, so it is easy to share them with friends!

One last note - the daylily is edible! Try dressing up a summer green salad with bright red daylilies! Or you can steam the daylily buds just as you would snow peas! And to top it off - the large water nodules of the root system can be chopped up and used as a substitute for radishes! So - if you turn into a total daylily addict like me - you may have to eat your plants for a while when you spend all the household budget on new cultivars!  We are working on several new projects at the moment including a DVD of the gardens and in particular, a recipe book using daylilies!

If you have any questions at all that you would like answered, please feel free to email me and I will do my best to help you or direct you to someone who can!  Reach me at pamerikson@uniserve.com



As for cultural requirements, these plants are true survivors - but by giving them a few simple things, they will reward you with years of color and beauty! They prefer a sunny location, with a minimum of three to four hours of sunshine. The darker colors - reds, purples, etc - would actually like afternoon shade protection, so a sunny morning spot for them would be best. They like to get enough moisture and regular watering will keep your foliage green and lush right through until late fall. If however, you must go away on holiday or are not able to work in the garden for a while - they ARE drought tolerant plants and may look a little sad upon your return - but will ALWAYS recover! An early spring fertilizing of a well balanced 10-10-10 would benefit, or my personal favorite - a top dressing between the plants of some good old compost! Don't pile the compost on top of the plant though - the daylily crown (where the roots and foliage join) does not like to be too far below the surface. (When planting originally - keep the crown about one inch from the surface). In the fall, I try to feed a 4-15-6 rose-type fertilizer around the garden - good for root building for the next spring! As for diseases and pests - not too much to look out for, other than the dreaded slug, and in recent years, the Hemerocallis Gall Midge.  (See special section below) I highly recommend cleaning the dead foliage from your plants in January/February, just before the new fresh shoots begin to appear - those are like cheesecake for slugs!!

This past spring, we had a particularly wet two months. During that time, many daylilies sat literally UNDER water and I was beginning to worry. As I have mentioned, daylilies enjoy regular moisture, but water sitting six inches above the crown was not what I had in mind! I have always maintained that this is a resilient, surviving plant - and I wasn't wrong! The 'flooded' plants went on to flourish and multiply after the waters subsided... to the point where I decided to try an experiment! I wouldn't recommend this, but I wanted to try it for my own curiosity - I sank a pot of an older daylily into my pond and smiled when that pot bloomed IN the water a month later! And talk about diversity - on the other far end of the spectrum, I visited a friend with a VERY dry garden about a month later, only to find that her daylilies planted in almost solid ROCK, were doing just fine! While the foliage was a little more sparce and not as lush when there is no moisture, they were certainly blooming with no trouble!

 

Hemerocallis Gall Midge - this is a pest problem that has now been an issue for about ten years.  This is simply a pest that came from Europe and has, over the past decade, spread across North America.  When first discovered, we were horrified - but have now learned to take it in stride, relax and deal with it.  First and foremost to remember, this is a one-generation annual pest - easy to remove and once your bloom season starts, the worst will be behind you!  The gall midge is a soil borne larvae that emerges from the ground in early spring (usually early May) - and she sets about laying her eggs in the largest buds she can find.   The beauty of daylilies is that the buds all mature at a different rate, thereby making it impossible for the midge to get at the later buds.  (We have subsequently started hybridizing for later blooming cultivars and collecting the later varieties that are completely midge-free). 


Once the eggs hatch, the resulting grubs feed by sucking on the inside of the bud.  This results in the buds taking on a deformed, pale appearance.   At the beginning of June, just keep your eyes open for any deformed buds - and if you are at all in doubt, just remove that bud.  You do not have to remove the entire flowering stem - only the affected bud.  Seal the bud in plastic and dispose of it.  Do not put it in the compost!   If you leave the affected buds on the plant, once the grubs finish feeding, they simply crawl back down into the soil and pupate until the following spring, when they again emerge as the adult midge and start the cycle all over again. 


Since this problem began, we have had great years where we have had less than 10% of the problem of the previous year, and then some years have been worse than others.  Nevertheless, it is a minor pest in the grand scheme of the plant we love.  The nice part is that there is no spraying required or needed for this pest.   We enjoy gardening organically so the last thing we would ever consider is chemical spraying.


JULY 2011 UPDATE:  Even though we had a long cold winter, the midge have returned.  We started noticing the deformed buds about a week ago and they seem to be in full swing right now.  On the bright side, it seems that it is only again the very early varieties that are being affected, with the later blooming ones not touched at all. 


Once again, please pick off any affected buds and seal them in plastic before putting them into the garbage.   We have received a lot of phone calls over the last week with regards to the midge, and please be sure you are getting the right information.  If any garden center tells you to cut ALL the buds off the plant, please correct them!  That is total misinformation!  Just pick off the affected buds - all the rest will bloom as normal.  Remember, this is an AIRBORNE pest - cutting off all your plants will not mean you won’t have any midge next year!   And don’t despair - once the beautiful blooms start, the midge becomes a distant memory - at least until next year!