By Mary-Jane Pilgrim, Master Gardener
Daylilies are popular perennial flowering garden plants. They bloom in our area in July and are often called the ‘perfect perennial’ because of its amazing qualities: showy flowers, wide array of vibrant colors, drought tolerance, ability to grow in most hardiness zones and low care requirements. Daylilies are a remarkable and stunning addition to any garden.
Daylilies are not true lilies even though their trumpet-like flowers resemble lily flowers. True lilies of the genus Lillium grow from onion-like bulbs, while daylilies grow from a mass of fleshy roots that hold moisture and nutrients. Unlike true lilies, daylily flowers are edible and can be consumed raw or cooked.
Daylily blooms grow at the end of tall stalks called scapes that can range from 6 to 36 inches long. The genus name, Hemerocallis, is derived from Greek words for beauty and day, referring to the fact that each pretty bloom lasts only one day. Don’t be discouraged though; each daylily flower stalk produces many buds so flowers are produced over a bloom period of several weeks. Many cultivars are reblooming which means that the bloom period for those varieties are extended. There are 20 native species of daylilies and more than 80,000 hybrids.
Because they grow wild in so many places, many people think daylilies are a native North American plant, but they are not. They were introduced to North America by Europeans during the colonial period. Their roots can survive out of the ground for weeks which allowed them to arrive here with the colonists’ ships and spread across the Americas in pioneer wagon trains.
They grow best in zones 4 through 9. They suffer few pest and disease problems and have a long blooming season. They can be a great solution for areas that are steep or otherwise hard to mow. Their dense root system reduces soil erosion and can choke out most weeds.
In the wild, daylilies occur only in orange or yellow. But since the 1930s, breeders have developed hybrid varieties with flower colors ranging from cream through varied shades of yellow, orange, red, crimson, pink and purple. There are hybrids that have petal edge bands or petal tips or throats of a contrasting color, or with ruffled or scalloped petal edges.
Daylilies will grow for many years without any attention, but the plants will produce more flowers if they are divided about every 5 years or so. This is a job for late summer, after the plants have finished blooming. Dig up the entire plant and place it on a tarp. Cut or pull the clump apart into manageable clumps. Before replanting, use scissors to trim the foliage back to a height of 5 or 6″. When re-planting, daylilies must go into the ground at least 6 weeks before the ground freezes and should be in a location where they get at least six hours of sun daily.