Daylilies, a summer garden staple, delight us with their diverse flower colors and easy, carefree nature. Their name is derived from the Greek words hemera (day) and kallos (beauty). This translates to “beautiful for a day,” as each daylily flower only lasts one day.
The entire show, however, can last 4 to 5 weeks, or longer if you have reblooming varieties, and even longer if you have different varieties that bloom at different times throughout the summer.
Daylilies are native to Asia and central Europe, where they have been cultivated for hundreds of years. Originally, they were used for medicinal purposes. While all parts of the plant are edible, we primarily use them for their aesthetic value in the summer garden. Plant collectors introduced them to Europe in the 1500s and to the United States in the late 1800s.
These perennials are hardy from zone 3 to zone 9. Evergreen cultivars are hardy in zones 8 to 11 and semi-evergreen cultivars are hardy in zones 5 to 11.
Plants can grow to be 12 inches tall and 3 or 4 feet tall, with large clumps of strappy leaves. Flowers are carried on leafless stems known as scapes, and each scape produces multiple flowers. Some daylily scapes can grow to be 5 feet tall!
Flowers range in color from nearly white to all shades of red, yellow, and orange, as well as pinks, purples, and lavenders. Pastel colors, bright and dark colors, bicolors, and tricolors are available. Some have ruffled petals, some have double flowers, and some have spidery petals.
There are literally thousands upon thousands of cultivars. You can select daylilies based on a variety of factors, including flower color, size, and shape, plant size, and bloom time. You can have blooms from May to October if you choose your cultivars carefully.
With so many options, deciding on which daylily to plant in your garden can be difficult. The American Daylily Society maintains a database that can assist you in making your selection. There are many local enthusiast groups, as well as many display gardens across the country.
Daylilies are toxic to cats but not to dogs or humans. In fact, some people consume them by adding the flowers to salads, pickling the buds or making fritters, and steaming the tender spring shoots and roots.
Daylilies vs. Lilies
Daylilies (Hemerocallis) and lilies (Lilium) are completely different plants, despite sharing a common name. Daylilies grow in mounds of strappy foliage from a tuberous root system, and their flowers look similar and bloom at the same time during the summer. True lilies sprout from bulbs in the form of leafy stalks.
In the photo below you can see lilies on the left and daylilies on the right)
Caring for Daylilies
Planting daylilies can be as easy as saying, “just stick ’em in the dirt and walk away,” because daylilies are one of the simplest summer perennials to grow. They have a short list of requirements and are very adaptable and forgiving. Still, every plant prefers certain conditions, and daylilies are no exception. Here’s what they like for the optimum growth and flower power.
Daylilies should be grown in full sun. These perennials thrive in areas that receive 6 or more hours of direct sunlight per day. They can tolerate some shade, particularly if you live in a hot climate. Plants with darker colored flowers benefit from some shade to keep the colors from fading.
Daylilies tolerate a wide range of soil conditions, but thrive in neutral to slightly acidic soils that are well draining and high in organic matter. They will thrive in almost any average garden soil, with the exception of very wet soil.
Daylilies, like most of our garden plants, thrive with about an inch of water per week. They can withstand periods of drought without suffering.
Daylilies don’t require much fertilizer. A fertile soil, on the other hand, results in poor flowering. If you have reblooming varieties, you can apply a balanced 10:10:10 slow release fertilizer after the first bloom time, but it isn’t really necessary.
Pest and Disease Problems
Insects are rarely attracted to daylilies. Aphids, spider mites, and thrips may be present, but they are not a common pest. Slugs and snails could also bother them.
Deer find these plants appealing, so if deer are a problem in your area, consider using a deterrent like Liquid Fence. Rabbits may nibble on a leaf now and then, but they mostly leave daylilies alone.
There are a few diseases that can infect daylilies. These include:
- Rust and leaf streak are fungi that cause brown streaking and spots on the leaves. To keep these diseases at bay, avoid overhead watering.
- Crown and root rot are caused by soil that has been kept wet for an extended period of time.
- Spring sickness is a mysterious disease that causes twisted leaves on newly emerging growth. Plants usually recover from this, but flowering may be reduced.
- Root-knot nematodes causes plant decline and death. It is most commonly found in moist, sandy soils. The only way to cure the disease is to remove infected plants and replace them with resistant varieties.
Grooming and Deadheading Your Daylilies
Daylilies need a little hands-on maintenance to keep them looking their best.
If you don’t remove spent flowers and fading leaves on a regular basis, you’re inhibiting the growth of your daylilies. If you don’t deadhead them frequently, they’ll focus their energy on producing seed pods rather than blooming more.
On your daily tour through the garden, remove yesterday’s withered blossoms. Remove the seed pods as well, especially if the plant is reblooming. This stops rebloomers from expending energy on seed formation. Instead, they will channel that energy into the production of more blossoms.
To keep the foliage green and healthy-looking, remove any fully brown leaves from the plant’s base.
Daylilies need to be divided every 3 to 6 years because they grow and multiply so quickly. When you notice that your clump’s flowering isn’t as prolific as it has been in previous summers, it’s time to divide it.
Divide in the spring, when the foliage is first emerging, or in the autumn. If you’re dividing in the fall, start about a month before your area’s first frost date.
Before you begin digging, remove the foliage. Simply dig out the entire clump and cut or pull any dead roots away. Cut the root ball into chucks with a sharp spade or garden knife. It’s fine if you cut through the roots; these perennials are very forgiving and will recover quickly. Plant the clumps 1 inch below the soil surface and thoroughly water them.
Be prepared: you may end up with a lot more divisions than you anticipated. If that’s the case, and you don’t have enough room for all of them, keep in mind that daylilies make excellent pass-along plants to share with friends and neighbors.