The Perfect Perennial
Common Name: daylily
Botanical Name: Hemerocallis hybrids and cultivars
Form: upright arching, vase
Genus: Hemerocallis (beauty for a day)
Plant Type: herbaceous perennial
Mature Size: 1’ x 3’ tall and wide
Origin: Japan, China, Korea, Eurasia
Hardiness Zone: 3 to 9
Foliage: green, stemless, basal (emerge from crown), long, narrow strap-like that taper
Flowers: trumpet shaped, July, August, yellows, oranges, reds with cultivars of pinks, purples, colour combinations, patterned and bicoloured, multiple petals, some are scented, some rebloom, while others bloom continuously until autumn
Fruit: brown capsule on species varieties, which may or may not come true from seed, September, October
Stems: flower stalks are leafless and only bear flowers
Exposure: sun to part shade, heat tolerant
Soil: tolerant to most soils, drought tolerant
Uses: perennial borders, foundation plantings, cut flowers, slope stabilization, massing, xeriscaping, shrub borders, butterflies and hummingbirds
Propagation: seeds, basal root cuttings and divisions
Pruning: cut back foliage in fall when it yellows.
Problems: aphids, spider mites, thrips, bacterial soft rot
Daylilies have so many good qualities they are considered to be the ‘perfect perennial’. After all they create a fountain of green arching leaves that looks pretty good even without their many trumpet-like blossoms. Many varieties are fragrant, but even if they are not, they all are visited by butterflies and hummingbirds.
Although their flowers resemble lilies, they are herbaceous perennials, and not bulbs, that turn yellow in the fall and go dormant during the winter. They regrow in spring and flower during the summer.
Their showy trumpet-shaped blossoms only last a day, but flowering lasts for about 5 weeks depending on the variety. Since there are more than 35,000 cultivars that flower at different times during the summer, it’s possible to have their pretty blossoms flowering for months.
Daylilies are a garden staple because they require very little care, they aren’t messy and are well-behaved. These tough cookies blossom and flourish in all kinds of growing conditions, and don’t mind a bit of neglect. As long as it the soil isn’t soggy and they receive at least 5 hours of sunlight, daylilies should perform well. If plants don’t flower, it is from lack of light. Afternoon shade is better than morning, especially in hot climates.
Despite their soil tolerance, they do prefer a loamy soil with good drainage. To improve their health and performance, mix in a few inches of compost into the soil. Mulch with 3 inches of a leaf mulch, wood chips or another organic mulch.
Daylilies have a mass of plump, tuberous roots that store water, hence their ability to tolerate many types of soils, as well as drought. They don’t like wet feet, so don’t situate them where the soil doesn’t drain freely.
Supply them with adequate moisture during the spring to get them off to a good start and early summer just before and when they are in flower. This promotes more blossoms and longer bloom period. Give the soil a good soaking to at least six inches.
Plant daylilies in early fall and early spring, about 6 to 8 weeks before it gets too cold in winter and too hot in summer. Place its crown (where roots and leaves meet) at soil level.
Once plants finish flowering, remove their flower stalks at their base. Cut back leaves in fall once they turn yellow. Mix in an inch or two of compost every year each spring.
Types of Daylilies
Their blossoms consist of three petals and three sepals (collectively termed 'tepals') that are joined at the base. They surround six curved stamens with pollen laden two-lobed anthers at their tips. In the centre is a long thin pistil that exceeds well past the stamens. That’s the basic flower, however plant breeders have put a new spin on the ever-so humble original daylily.
Hybrids and cultivars were developed from these initial species: the tawny daylily (H. fulva) and the lemon lily (H. flava). Now they come in every colour except for pure blue and pure white. Petals are ruffled, frilly, skinny or broad. There’s some with colourful contrasting ‘eyes’ in the centre, there’s ones with stripes or blends of different colours. There are so many different types of daylilies because they are relatively easy to hybridize.
Previously there were only diploid hybrids (2 sets of chromosomes), but tetraploids are quite impressive because they have double that amount. They are bold and brassy with thicker petals and bigger blossoms on heftier plants. Think of them as daylilies on steroids.