Plant Daylilies for a Colorful Summer Garden

You may see the standard yellow and orange trumpet-shaped flowers of the daylily along roadways, medians, commercial and residential yards, but daylilies offer a wide range of colors, bloom sizes and shapes.  

A daylily is a native to Asia, and in the genus Hemerocallis, which is derived from two Greek words meaning day and beauty. Despite the common name, it is not a lily but in the order of Asparagales, which includes such diverse species as orchid, crocus, hyacinth, amaryllis, aloe, onion, asparagus, vanilla and agave.

The daylily is a perennial with color ranges in near whites, yellows, oranges, reds, pinks, lavenders, purples, blues and even electric greens. Blooms can be a solid color, bi-color, variegated, polychrome (blending many colors), feathered colors and various other types of color combinations. Flower shape can be trumpet, spider, single petal, double petal, triangular, star, circular, ruffled or recurved. Some multi-petaled varieties look like peonies. While each flower lasts only a day, each scape (stalk) will produce multiple flower buds. Some cultivars are re-bloomers, having more than one flowering period.

Daylilies are clump-forming perennials with fibrous or somewhat bulbous roots. They come in various sizes (tall, medium, low, dwarf) with heights ranging from eight inches to five feet, and flower sizes from two inches to eight inches. Daylilies grow to form dense clumps, which can be divided to form new plantings. Smaller compact types are ideal for borders or lining sidewalks. Taller varieties are perfect for planting among ornamental grasses or placement at the back of a yard or flower bed. Daylilies also do well in containers.

Early spring and fall are the best times to plant daylilies. Daylilies prefer six hours of full sun for the best bloom. However, filtered shade is acceptable in areas of hot, blazing sun, but bloom might be less. Daylilies are tolerant of drought and flooding, high temperatures and most soils.

To plant, loosen the soil in the area to be planted. Amend with compost or well-rotted manure if needed, especially with clay or sandy soils. Dig a hole about a foot deep and twice as wide as the root span. Create a mound in the center of the hole, so the root crown will be one-half to one inch below the soil surface. Place the root on the mound and spread the fibrous sections around and down the mound. Add a well-balanced fertilizer to new plantings. Fill the hole, then tamp down the soil. Water well. Water regularly the first season and, thereafter, when the weather is dry.

Daylilies benefit from deep watering rather than brief frequent waterings. Mulch around the plant to improve soil quality, retain soil moisture, prevent weeds and protect from a hard freeze, but keep the mulch away from the crown area. A single application of a well-balanced fertilizer in the spring is sufficient but may not be necessary every year. In very poor or sandy soils, more frequent fertilizer may be needed.

In the spring, clear the base of the plant of any debris and weeds. Add fertilizer if needed. In the summer when plants are blooming, remember deep watering is best, preferably in the morning. Do not water on the foliage as this can lead to wilted blossoms. You can remove the individual spent blossoms to keep the plant looking fresh. When all the blossoms on a stalk have bloomed, cut back to the base to prevent seed formation. In the fall, remove dead or dying leaves, leaving healthy foliage for winter protection. 

Daylilies do have some pests, but damage is typically minor. For aphids, a mildly systemic product is needed to reach the pests deep inside the fans. Spider mites, which are active in hot, dry weather, can be hosed off as needed. Several species of thrips are known to infest daylilies. Control with a mild systemic pesticide. ( The pesticide Kelthane can damage daylilies.) Slugs and snails can easily be hand-picked and controlled with good garden sanitation. Daylily rust can occur with temperatures between 40 and 90 degrees for five to six hours. This rust develops when the leaves remain wet, creating a humid environment. Avoid overhead watering. If rust does develop, it is typically on the older leaves. Prune these out, and clean shears with an alcohol wipe between cuts to prevent spread of the rust.

Immature plants, or small tubers, can take a year or two to fully establish in order to bloom.

Non-flowering of mature daylilies can be a sign of a couple of issues. Your plant may not be receiving an adequate amount of sunlight to produce consistent blooms. Planting daylilies too deep can also result in decreased or lack of bloom. Overcrowding can also result in diminished size and a decrease in the number of flowers produced.

Daylilies can be divided in spring or fall at three to five years if the bloom declines and the center of the clump appears unhealthy. Dig the entire clump, and use two garden forks to pull the clump into smaller pieces. Then replant each smaller clump.

Some of the more common daylily varieties can be found at nurseries and big box stores. For the really exotic varieties and colors there are many catalogue and on-line growers that offer a large selection of choices. As noted above, spring and fall are the best planting times for daylilies. If you have daylily tubers that were not planted right away and dried out somewhat, you may want to re-hydrate them before planting. Place tubers in non-chlorinated water for three to four hours ( up to eight hours), and then plant as described above.

Now that you have planted daylilies, expect to enjoy their beauty each summer. Happy gardening!

The Master Gardeners will be live to answer your questions on Saturday, Nov. 13, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Luis Nursery in Visalia. You can also contact them at 559-684-3325, or visit their web site at

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