By Christine March, Master Gardener, SCMG
My Mother once got me a plaque that stated “Everyone is entitled to my opinion.”
In that vein, it is my opinion that dayliies belong in everyone’s garden! Why? Because they might be the perfect perennial.
I’ve been growing daylilies for many years but sense they are taken for granted by many gardeners and don’t get the respect they deserve. I’m hoping this article will help you fall in love with these beautiful, tough, easy-care perennials and inspire you to add a few new cultivars to your garden.
But first, let’s clear up a common misconception: Daylilies are not related in any way to lilies. Lilies are bulbous perennials and members of the genus lilium. Daylilies are clump-forming herbaceous perennials that spread via rhizomes and division. They are members of the genus Hemerocallis. Many daylily flowers resemble lilies, hence the common name, daylily – and the confusion. The genus name Hemerocallis comes from the Greek words “hemera” which means “day” and “kallos” which means “beauty”. Beauty for a day. While each bloom may only last a day a mature clump will have numerous stems, each of which bears numerous buds providing blooms for weeks.
Most of us are familiar with the species Hemerocallis fulva, aka the orange“ditch lily”. While common, it is not a native plant, and is now considered invasive. This species plant, amongst others, was brought to North America in the 18th century but the world of Hemerocallis didn’t start to expand until the 1930s when botanists and breeders like Dr. A.B. Stout began their pioneering work with Hemerocallis. In fact, Dr. Stout is known as the Father of the Modern Daylily and the highest honour a breeder can achieve is the Stout Silver Medal.
Today there are about 20 known species and over 80,000 registered cultivars. Believe me when I tell you there is a daylily for every garden.
Daylilies will thrive in a wide range of Climate Zones, from 4 – 9. They are amongst the earliest perennials to poke through the soil in early spring and one of the last to die down in the fall. Depending on the cultivars grown you will enjoy daylilies blooming in your garden from June through October.
Beyond being beautiful daylilies are relatively easy care and generally not bothered by disease or insects. They are content in most average garden soil but will truly thrive in fertile, well-drained soil with good microbial activity. Most cultivars require at least six hours of sun per day for maximum performance, but many will do well with part-sun. In time the plants will form good-sizes clumps which are easily divided.
The colour range is expansive: near-whites, pastels, yellows, oranges, pinks, vivid reds, green, deep crimson, purple, neon pink, nearly true-blue, fabulous blends and eye-popping multi-coloured patterns. The American Hemerocallis Society recognizes six different flower forms and the lovely grassy foliage can be deciduous, evergreen or semi-evergreen. Daylilies are the perfect foil to disguise the dying foliage of spring bulbs.
“Peggy Jeffcoat” Photo by Christine March
Daylilies are generally not bothered by pests or disease. The most common diseases are rust (Puccinia hemerocallidis), a fungus that causes yellow spots or streaks on the leaves, and leaf streak (Aureobasidium microstictum) which causes yellowing of the leaves along the midrib. If you notice signs of disease remove the infected leaves and immediately place them in a bag for disposal – NOT in your compost.
Pests are generally not a cause for concern, but do watch for slugs and snails in early spring as they enjoy the juicy, tender young shoots of new growth.
Daylilies are widely available at reputable garden centre but these only scratch the surface of options. Seek out specialist farms and hybridizers to find a much wider variety of cultivars. A listing of local daylily farms can be found on the Ontario Daylily Society website. (Link below.)
Daylilies are easy to grow, tough, come in a dazzling array of colours and flower forms, will thrive in your gardens for years. And they are beautiful.
They could be the perfect perennial. In my opinion, this is the year to add more daylilies to your garden.
Resources (including links to growers and hybridizers)