Rethinking Daylilies

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During the summer, daylilies (Hemerocallis) can be found in bloom throughout the area. Often times daylilies have been called “ditch lilies” because they were most common along roadsides and ditches. Daylilies have come a long way from the common roadside “ditch lily”. Thanks to plant breeders, thousands of named cultivars of daylilies now exist. The only colors originally were yellows and oranges. The daylily color range now includes palest lemon, bright yellow and gold, orange, scarlet, maroon, wine-reds, pale pink, rose, lavender, grape, and melon. Not only is there a wide array of colors, there are also various sizes and shapes. Daylilies are a favorite plant in the landscape because they are dependable perennials. They are prolific and colorful bloomers. Daylilies grow well in most soils, are tolerant of drought, and are relatively pest-free. Daylilies can be grown in full sun or light shade. Darker-colored cultivars should be protected from strong afternoon sun that may fade the petals.

Orange Daylilies

Daylilies (Hemerolcallis) have come a long way from the common roadside “ditch lily”.

Daylilies can be used in shrub borders and in perennials beds to add color to the landscape during the summer months. Daylilies also make an excellent ground cover on slopes because their roots will hold against erosion once established. Even some of the smaller daylily cultivars can be planted in containers.

Daylilies are very tolerant and grow in almost any soil with the exception of poorly drained soils. For optimal growth, daylilies prefer slightly acid (pH 6 to 6.5) well-drained soil with plenty of organic matter. If drainage is a problem, daylilies can be planted in raised beds.

The best time to plant daylilies is during early fall or early spring when soil temperatures are moderate. However, daylilies will tolerate planting during any time of the year. Planted daylilies should be spaced 18 to 24 inches apart. The plant should set so that the crown (point where roots and foliage meet) is no deeper than 1 inch below the surface of the soil. After planting, water plants thoroughly and continue to deep soak them at least weekly until established. Although daylilies are drought-tolerant once established, consistent watering while budding and flowering produces better-quality flowers. Mulching will help to conserve moisture in the soil around the daylilies and also control weeds.

Daylilies will grow fine without any fertilizer but optimal growth can be achieved when lightly fertilized. They prefer moderate nitrogen and higher rates of phosphorous and potash. Slow-release fertilizers are best for daylilies. Fertilizer can be applied in early spring just as new growth begins and again in midsummer.

Division is not necessary for daylilies but may revitalize flowering in plants that have become crowded. Division of daylilies is also the way that you can increase the number of them in your landscape. Daylilies are best divided after flowering. When dividing, lift the entire clump or cluster out of the soil with a garden fork. To separate a clump into individual sections, shake the clump to remove as much soil as possible, and then work the roots of individual plants apart.

Little maintenance is required for daylilies, but some grooming during the year will keep them looking their best. During the winter, remove any rotted or damaged foliage from around the lilies. Remove spent blooms and seedpods after flowering. When all the flowers on the flowering stalk are finished, the flower stalk can be cut close to ground level. Remove dead foliage from plants as they die back in the fall.

As mentioned earlier, there are now thousands of named cultivars of daylilies that can make it overwhelming when trying to pick out a cultivar. If you have access to the internet you can find the American Hemerocallis Society who gives out the Stout Medal every year to daylily cultivars of superior quality. Reviewing the list of past Stout Medal cultivars could provide some guidance in selecting a cultivar that you will enjoy.

As you consider perennials to add to your landscape, don’t overlook daylilies. Having a few of these dependable, low maintenance plants can add some summer color to your gardens.

To learn of more plant ideas for your landscape, visit the North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox at

Jessica Strickland is an agriculture extension agent, specializing in horticulture for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Wayne County.

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