Saturday, June 21, 2008

Consider The Daylily For A Moment

The daylily, Hemerocallis, is actually not a lily even though it is called one. Hemerocallis is the combination of the Greek words for "day" and "beauty," which stems from the observation that each flower lasts only one day. Fortunately for us, there are many flower buds on each daylily flower stalk, and many stalks in each plant so we are blessed with a clump that blooms for several weeks.

Daylilies have the reputation for being tough, adaptable, vigorous plants that can withstand droughts and require less care than other perennials. Daylilies are one of the most popular perennials and for good reason. They are:

* Available in a rainbow of colors and a variety of shapes and sizes.
* Able to survive with very little care in a wide range of climates.
* Suitable for all types of landscapes.
* Drought resistant and almost disease and insect free.
* Adaptable to various soil and light conditions.
* Known to bloom from late spring until autumn.
* Did I mention easy to care for?

Daylily descriptions typically include the plants color, size, habit, and temperature tolerance. As far as color goes, if you want it it’s probably out there. Leaves can be narrow like grass to husky like corn and may curve or stand erect from 6 inches to 36 inches long.

Daylily varieties behave three different ways in the winter. If the plant is Dormant, the leaves die off completely, but emerge like green spears from the earth in spring. If the daylily is Evergreen they will keep producing leaves year round until cold weather prevents growth. In mild climates, the leaves of evergreens remain green all winter but in colder climes the crown survives if it is hardy (or well mulched). We say that a daylily is Semi-Evergreen if it behaves contrarily to Dormant and Evergreen descriptions. The term is used to describe varieties that appear somewhat evergreen in the South, but are dormant in the North.

The cold-hardiness of daylilies is quite variable. Some are iron-clad hardy. Others are extremely tender. Cold-hardiness is not determined by the foliage habit because evergreen, dormant, and semi-evergreen can be anything from extremely cold-hardy to extremely tender. To avoid losing a cultivar, choose daylilies which others have already grown successfully in your climate.

Daylilies can bloom for years without special care. In fact, you accomplished gardeners will recognize the procedures given here apply generally to most perennials.

The genus Hemerocallis is native to the countries in the temperate parts of Asia. Original colors consisted of yellow, orange and red. But hybridizers created a palette of colors from near-whites, pastels, yellows, oranges, pinks, crimson, purple, nearly true-blue, and fabulous blends. They also created different bloom sizes, shapes, textures and fragrances.

Daylilies bloom from early spring until frost, depending on the coldness of the climate. To indicate which plant grows when, daylily growers use terms and abbreviations:

* Extra Early (EE). The first to bloom from March or April in the extreme South, to May or June in the North. Gold and yellow shades dominate in the extra-early season, often complementing the blues and purples of Iris. Try Hemerocallis x ‘Lemon Prelude’ – A bright entirely lemon-yellow 5" blossom with six petals each. 21" tall. Hardy from North Carolina to Maine.
* Early (E). These daylilies bloom three to five weeks prior to the mass of bloom at midseason. ‘Stella d’Oro’- blooms early to late summer in Zones 3-9. Up to 24" in height with 5" bright yellow blooms. Deadhead to promote continual bloom.
* Early Midseason (EM). These daylilies bloom one to three weeks before the height of bloom of most cultivars. x ‘Atlanta Lucky Piece’ is a 29" tall plant with a 6" pink and yellow green eyezone and darker orchid watermark above a big green throat. Zones 3-9.
* Midseason (M). These daylilies bloom at the peak of the daylily bloom in your Zone. This ranges from May in the South to July in the North. A typical midseason plant is x ‘Chicago Cardinal’- 32" tall with 6" bright clear red bloom with a green throat. Zones 3-9.
* Late Midseason (LM). These daylilies bloom one to three weeks after the height or peak of bloom in your Zone. x ‘Pardon Me’- An 18" tall daylily with 2 ¾ inch re-blooming cherry wine crimped petals around a yellow throat. Zones 3-9.
* Late (L). These daylilies bloom when most others have finished blooming, usually four to six weeks after the peak of the season. x ‘Wee Willie Winkie’ is a 50" tall delicate yet profuse bloomer. Light yellow 2 ¼ inch bloom. Zones 3-9.
* Very Late (VL). These daylilies are the last to bloom, often late in the summer in the South, fall in the North. x ‘Late Adagio’- A 50" tall with distinctive purple, amber and yellow blended 5" blooms. Zones 3-9.
* Rebloomer or ever blooming. These daylilies bloom more than one time during a single season. Some of these bloom early (e.g., May or June) and then repeat in the fall. Others have a succession of bloom periods, one shortly after another for several months.

Daylilies adapt to most sites provided they have at least six hours of direct sunlight a day. If using them in a partially shaded environment they require a minimum of two hours of direct sunlight to perform well. And here’s a secret to extending your blooming season. When daylilies have a little shade they tend to bloom about two or three weeks later than the ones in full sun. By planting some in part shade and some in full sun, you increase your bloom period by about three weeks. These plants are the best!

They are not very fussy about soil, but a well-drained loam is best. If you have heavy, compacted soil, like clay, mix peat moss or compost to loosen it. The easiest way to assess your soil fertility and condition is to have a soil test performed. The PH or acidity of the soil should be adjusted to about 6.5 or at least be in the range of 6.2 to 6.8. Daylilies like some organic matter mixed in the soil; I’d use about five inches of compost tilled into the top eight inches of soil.

Planting your daylilies is easy. Loosen the soil about 8 inches below ground level and add compost if your soil is compact. Dig a hole and fashion a cone of soil slightly below ground level. Spread the roots over the cone and then cover them with about 1" of soil. Daylilies may be planted from 4 inches to 18 inches apart, though plant spacing is a personal preference. You don’t have to water them much during the first month as they send out new feeder roots, but they do need to be watered regularly. An inch a week applied in two irrigation cycles is perfect.

Three year old plants are probably root bound and should be gently dug out of the ground and separated into individual clumps. Over grown clumps may not bloom or grow well. Fall is the best time to divide and replant in the south and spring is the best time in the north. Vigorous re-blooming cultivars like Stella De Oro (and its many relatives) will out grow a site and need to be divided and replanted every two or three years. Wash all the soil from the roots and pulling two, three and four fan divisions off the clump. Let the divisions dry in the shade for several hours or overnight to let the cut surfaces heal and prevents fungal and bacterial infections. Replant the divisions as described above.

Daylilies do not generally have serious disease and pest problems. The few diseases they do have can be easily controlled by proper culture. Always pull summer mulch away from the crown at least an inch in early spring and again in late fall to prevent bacterial and fungal infection. If chemical treatment is necessary, follow the directions of a soil drench fungicide labeled for ornamentals. Daylily pests may include aphids, thrips and spider mites, but they are rarely a problem. If they are, organic or chemical sprays labeled for the particular pest and ornamentals will control them.

It’s no surprise that daylilies are in high demand. They’re easy to care for, grow just about anywhere, and varieties abound in dizzying arrays of colors and sizes. This plant you see everyday just may be the plant you’ve overlooked.

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