Daylilies

This article written by Duff Spafford appeared in the S.P.S Newsletter
Volume 1, Number 2                                        July, 1988

The daylily's botanical name is hemerocallis, which means 'Beauty for a day'. Each bloom of the daylily does indeed open for one day only, but a mature plant can produce dozens or even hundreds of blooms over a flowering season of from two to four weeks. I have one plant in my garden which has been left undisturbed for ten years and it has been producing blooms at the rate of four to five hundred a season.

The daylily is an attractive, versatile and almost trouble-free perennial. There are hundreds of named cultivars available from specialist nurseries and they come in a great variety of sizes, flowering seasons and colours. There are miniatures whose blooms would fit inside a teacup. At the other extreme, in my garden at any rate, is a curious product of the breeder's ingenuity which has narrow, elongated petals; the flower measures 20 cm across. The more typical bloom is one with a diameter of 10-12 cm.

The daylilies which bloom earliest come into flower about the first week of June; there are others which wait until early August, but in the main the daylily is a perennial which likes to bloom in July.

Breeders have not yet come up with a true blue or a pure white, but otherwise the full spectrum of colour is available, from a near-white to a wine bordering on black, with pinks, yellows, salmons, lavenders and orange in between. Often two or more colours are combined in a bloom - for example, a pink which fades into yellow in the throat of the flower.

Not to be overlooked is the foliage of the plant, which forms an attractive fountain of slender leaves which remain green until the first hard frost.

For gardeners who are shorter on time than aspirations the daylily is good news because it does not need staking, spraying, frequent dividing, great soil, a lot of room, or even regular watering. It has no insect pests which pose a problem, in my experience, and although it is supposed to be subject occasionally to a bacterial disease known as crown rot I have not lost any plants to this disease in ten years.

The daylily tolerates mediocre soil but like most plants responds well to something better. It can be transplanted at any time, even when in flower. It should have six hours of direct sunlight a day it is to be counted on to bloom well, and it needs a good watering in the spring during periods of drought. Some care should be taken in planting. The crown of the plant (where the leaves join the roots) should be no more than the width of a thumb below the surface of the soil and the roots should be splayed out so that they remain fairly close to the surface.

Daylilies make good specimen plants but are especially attractive when massed. About one-half of my border is given over to daylilies, which are planted so closely together that the canopy of leaves which they form makes life pretty well impossible for weeds. (Maybe there are weeds under there, but at least I don't see them).