Daylilies as easy as they come

If I had to be limited to growing only one type of perennial flower (believe me, I'm glad I'm not!) I would likely choose daylilies.

To me, they embody everything a perennial flower should be: Easy to grow, reliable in many situations and available in enough colors and forms to keep them interesting. So many of the plants I enjoy today are the flowers I knew as a youth, yet there were no daylilies in my mother's gardens. How did I become such a big fan?

My first recollection of these fine bloomers came on a summer family trip in northern New England. We drove past several farms that had fields of flowers in bloom. Eventually my mom could stand it no further and made my dad stop at the next field. As we walked among the various blooms, the resident farmer told us that if there were any we would like, he'd be happy to dig them up for us. My mother gently explained that we were from out of state and wouldn't be going home for several more days so it would be impossible for us to take them with us. He looked at her incredulously and replied, "But, ma'am, these are daylilies. You can take them with you as long as you're home in a week or two. You can't hurt 'em!"

Even though we didn't take any with us that day, I have carried his words with me all these years. You can't hurt 'em. Dig them in full bloom. Plant them just about anywhere. Is it really that simple?

Just about. Daylilies are about as foolproof as it gets. Which is not to say that they are immune to problems. But I can never remember having a daylily die due to insects or diseases. If you went out of your way, you could probably kill one, but it might prove difficult to accomplish.

Many people are familiar only with the tall orange variety that has escaped from gardens and grows happily along the ditches and roadsides here and throughout much of the Willamette Valley. Although attractive in their own right, they are not all that the world of daylilies has to offer. There are several different types of daylilies, including some that are evergreen, semi-evergreen, and deciduous. Bloom time is variable. Some cultivars bloom in early June, while others may bloom as late as August. There are "rebloomer" types, as well, which flower over the entire summer season.

The most striking recent addition to daylily cultivars has been development of tetraploid types. These plants have twice the number of chromosomes in their cells as ordinary cultivars. The plants produce thicker stems with larger flowers of much greater "substance." Consider including some tetraploid cultivars in any daylily collection. These are not your grandmother's daylilies.

Although not fussy about soil types or location, daylilies will perform best in ample sun and well-drained soil. Don't overfeed the plants or an abundance of coarse foliage may result at the expense of bloom. Daylilies will reward the gardener who takes care of their water needs during bloom time with abundant flowers on scapes that rise above the leaves. Mulch does wonders for holding moisture in the soil.

The flowers are borne on slender stalks, which arise from the center of the vegetative crown. The flower stalks may range in height from 1 to 6 feet. Usually branched near the top, the showy, lily-like flowers open for one day only, hence the common name. Individual blooms vary from 1 inch to more than 8 inches in diameter and are composed of three sepals and three petals. Flower shape will vary with the individual cultivar. Some flowers have wide and overlapping petals, while others have petals that bend backward. They may be crinkled, ruffled, or shaped like trumpets, cups or bells.

When flowering begins to decline after a few seasons, cut around the entire clump with a sharp spade, and lift the entire mass and cut into divisions (sections) with a sharp knife. Each division should include several strong fans or crowns. That's probably the hardest part of growing these marvelous plants.

Stan Mapolski, aka The Rogue Gardener, can be heard from 9-10 a.m. Saturday mornings on KMED 1440 AM and seen in periodic gardening segments for KTVL Channel 10 News. Reach him at

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