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All About Daylilies

daylilies-reflected-in-water

Although not as obvious as trends in the clothing industry, there are trends in gardening as some plants come into favor and then drift to the back of the border.  Gardening for nature and planting for pollinators, using native plants, planting meadows and prairies, and incorporating food plants into ornamental plantings are among today’s garden trends.

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Twenty years ago, we planted mostly for beauty, and the biggest-selling groups of perennials at Behnke’s were hostas for the shade, and daylilies for the sun.  Along with changing tastes, the explosion in the population of deer has reduced demand for these stalwarts of the perennial garden.  If deer aren’t an issue for you, take another look at daylilies; they offer a lot to the casual gardener, providing reliable color and demanding little except our appreciation.

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Daylilies come from Asia.  You are likely familiar with the orange daylily, which is such a ubiquitous weed that most people assume it’s a native plant rather than an invasive species reviled by park managers and other weed warriors.  That’s the bad one; there are about 50,000 varieties of hybrid daylilies which are well-behaved and deserve your consideration.

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Daylilies present trumpet-shaped blooms in summer; held above a grassy-looking mound of foliage. Individual flowers last a day, with multiple flowers on multiple stems over the course of three or four weeks.  Some rebloom a second or third time after the first bloom; the golden variety ‘Stella de Oro’ is the poster plant of the rebloomers.  Rebloom is better in cooler summers. A clump of daylilies that is several years old may produce hundreds of blooms.  They come in most colors; I don’t think there is a true blue or a black variety, but you have everything else.

Plant breeders offer short ones, tall ones, flowers with ruffled edges–even an eye or a “watermark” of colors that contrast with the main bloom. Beyond color, breeders look for heavy-blooming plants with strong stems and thick “sunproof” petals that hold up to hot afternoon sun.  A nice fragrance is a bonus.  A daylily in full bloom is spectacular, and perfect for the country or cottage look.  Use either alone, en masse, or mixed with other perennials and shrubs.

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Daylilies are best grown in full sun, but will tolerate a half day of shade—you will have fewer blooms in shade, though.  Once established they can go for a couple of weeks without water if you are on vacation.  Fertilize in spring or early fall with Plant-tone.  Plant-tone right after blooming and weekly watering will help rebloomers produce new fans of leaves and bloom again.

As they grow outward from the original planting each year, eventually the center of the clump will become bare.   Dig them up and divide them (split the clump) around the 5th year, replanting clumps from the edge to refresh the planting.  You don’t need to divide them into small pieces unless you want a lot.  Daylilies grow exponentially over the years.  If you have one fan the first year (the plant you just bought), you will likely have three the second and 7 to 15 the third. Each fan should produce a bloom spike with multiple flower buds and has the buds to begin a new clump.

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Day Lilies 2

Come in and look at our daylilies as they are now in bloom (July).  Plant a few and enjoy; you may turn into a garden trendsetter.

by Larry Hurley, Behnke horticulturist

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