Throughout this hot, oppressive summer, I have come to rely on a cheery morning greeting from the daylilies in my garden. My bank of daylilies has been steadily sending up blossoms since late May with seemingly no regard to the high temperatures and sporadic watering.
Daylilies are very hardy perennials that belong to the genus Hemerocallis and are not true lilies. The term hemerocallis comes from the Greek words hemera (day) and kallos (inherent beauty), and the term is apt — each flower opens to reveal its beauty for only one day.
Luckily, each plant produces a succession of flower buds that bloom throughout the summer. There are many varieties of daylilies, and they can exhibit a wide range of colors, textures and bloom time. They all become rapidly established when planted and can be used in mass plantings in a flower border, along walkways, and as erosion control along slopes.
For the past 75 years, hybridizers have been busy improving the wild daylilies originally imported from the Far East. The original forms came in yellow, orange and red. You can now find daylilies in a variety of pinks, lilacs, bi-tones and patterned blooms — many with double or ruffled petals. There are even fragrant night-blooming daylilies (Hemerocallis lilioasphodelus). You can get a great deal of information on the thousands of different varieties online at The American Hemerocallis Society.
When choosing daylilies for your garden, remember that they perform best if they receive at least six to eight hours of sunlight each day. However, the darker-colored daylilies can do well with as little as four hours of sunlight, while the lighter colored varieties prefer more sun.
Daylilies are a wonderful addition to gardens in our area because their shallow roots make them tolerant of the clay and hard-packed soil found here. They adapt well to many different soil types and conditions with the exception of boggy areas. But if you are considering adding daylilies to your beds (and you should!), the best gift you can give your new plants is a bed supplemented with peat, compost or leaf mulch prior to planting.
The best time to plant daylilies is late August to October. This will allow them to establish a good root system before cold temperatures arrive. All of our local nurseries and garden centers have daylilies for sale, and you will find a variety of blooms.
If you want to find unusual varieties, you may need to do an internet search. If you buy plants online, soak them in water for a few hours after you receive them, and then plant them as soon as possible.
Fertilize your daylilies once a year with a good, slow-release fertilizer. Spring fertilization will result in sturdy stems and increased blooms, but be careful not to over-fertilize. That may result in overgrown plants and fewer blooms.
Daylilies are in bloom now. Summer is a great time to visit local display gardens like those at the Meadowlark Botanical Gardens. You can enjoy the blooms and decide on your choices for Autumn planting.
Eleni Silverman is a Master Gardener, Vice President of the Belle Haven Garden Club, Chair of the Landscape Committee at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology and author of the garden blog "Belle Haven Garden Maven." She admits to a fascination with all things gardening, believes even compost is engaging, and will eagerly discuss the relative merits of leaf mold versus hardwood mulch.