Daylilies – The Perfect Perennial

Daylilies - The Perfect Perennial

1.What is a daylily?

Once regarded as a roadside weed, the daylily has found its way into many South African perennial gardens. Despite humble beginnings, modern hybridized daylilies have become a mainstay of hot, summer flower gardens. Easy to grow, daylilies come in a wide range of colours, shapes and sizes. With a fairly long blooming season, daylilies are basically pest and disease free, drought resistant and tolerant of most soil conditions. Flowering time for Daylilies in South Africa is from October to May. Peak flowering is around mid November.

Like its name Hemerocallis, "beauty for a day", the individual daylily flower lasts only one day. However, a single plant may produce over 100 flowers, extending a plant's bloom period for several weeks. More than 54,000 cultivars have been registered. A wide variety is available in South Africa commercially, with periods of bloom from very early to late in the season. Daylilies can be blooming with iris in spring and continue into fall with chrysanthemums.

Daylilies are members of the Liliaceae (lily) family. Originally from Eurasia, the lemon daylily (yellow) and the tawny daylily (orange) were brought to the New World by colonists and were popular farmyard plantings. In the USA the tawny daylily spread to roadsides, thus leading to its other common name, "ditch lily."

DaylilyMany daylilies are deciduous (foliage dies to the ground each winter), although some are semi-evergreen or even evergreen. Deciduous varieties are commonly referred to as dormant. The arching foliage consists of long linear leaves that grow 1 to 2 feet tall. Leaves are a rich green colour. The erect, leafless flower stalks--called scapes--rise from the crown of the plant and extend above the foliage. The scapes of most varieties range in height from 45cm. to over a metre tall. Five to 30 or more flowers are present on each flower stalk. Flowers range from less than 5cm across, for the miniature varieties, to over 20cm.

Flowers are available in almost every colour, except blue and true white. Some varieties have attractive eyes and throats. Others are polychromes, with blends of related shades, and bi-colour and eyed flowers. Edged flowers occur when the segment edges are either lighter or darker than the segment colour. Many of these colours and characteristics are the result of extensive hybridization. The root system of daylily plants varies from an almost fibrous type to the common fleshy type. This fleshy root system, in part, differentiates the daylily from true lilies that grow from bulbs.

Daylily2.Where to plant and how to care

Daylilies do tolerate partial shade but prefer full sun (a minimum of 6 hours is best with the exception of dark colours that prefer more shade). Although they are known for their tolerance of poor sites, they will perform best in soils that are well drained and possess abundant organic matter. If fertilized heavily, foliage will be overgrown and flowering will be poor. One application of 3:1:5, in early spring and again in March should be adequate. Water once a week to a depth of 20cm. and more often during prolonged periods of drought. Mulching is beneficial. Winter mulch applied in late autumn should be used on newly transplanted daylilies. Once they are established daylilies usually do not need winter protection. Winter mulches should be light and airy. Coarse materials such as straw work well.

Just as other plants in the garden need regular clean up, daylilies are no exception. Remove dead foliage and debris from plants in early spring and late autumn. Check plants regularly during the growing season to remove damaged or yellowed leaves. Some daylilies produce seedpods after the flowers fade, if left in place. Unless you want to experiment with seedling plants, faded flowers and flower stalks should be removed before seeds are produced to ensure that all of the plant's stored food reserves go to the roots, so the plant will make a good showing next year.

Daylily3.How to multiply daylilies

Daylilies can be propagated through division or by hybridizing. Division of large clumps is an easy way to add quantity to the garden. Trading and sharing daylily divisions is a great way to add variety to your collection. Clumps can be divided when they become overcrowded, usually every 4 to 6 years, by separating the plant into rooted segments, each with 1-2 shoots. This division is referred to as a fan. Because the root system is so vigorous, you may need to use a spade or fork to get the pieces apart. Daylilies can be divided in spring as new growth is emerging or during April. Planting may also be done in the very early spring. Avoid dividing blooming plants. When planting divisions or newly purchased plants, the hole needs to be large enough to allow the roots to spread out. A small cone of soil should be made in the centre of the hole, with the division placed on top with the roots fanned outward and downward. Carefully work the soil around the roots. Set the plants so that the crown (the point where the roots and foliage meet) is about an inch below the soil surface. Tall cultivars should be spaced 70cm, with smaller types 30 to 50cm apart.

DaylilyMore adventurous gardeners can become back yard hybridizers. In the plant world, Hemerocallis is one of the easiest plants to propagate by crossbreeding. Hybridizing is taking the pollen of one plant and crossing it to another flower to produce seed. At the centre of the daylily flower are typically six stamens or anthers (male parts) and one pistil or stigma (female part). The pistil is the centre protuberance of the daylily that extends out about 5-7cm. The powdery substance at the end of the stamen is the pollen and it should be taken from one flower and placed on the tip of the pistil of the other flower. The easiest method is to pick the whole stamen with pollen attached and brush it across the top of the pistil. The best time to hybridize is as soon as the pollen has dried and become fluffy, usually about mid-morning. The art of hybridizing lies in picking the right parents. Serious hybridizers tag each cross on the plant, keep extensive records and plan every cross based on traits of the cultivars used. The convention for keeping track of crosses is: Name of POD parent X name of POLLEN parent.

Allow the seed to develop (do not remove the spent flower). If the cross was successful, within 3 days there will be a tiny green nub right at the spot where the flower was attached. Small seed pods begin swelling a few days after pollination. The seedpod will grow to a length of 1-3cm. As seedpods ripen, after approximately 40-60 days, they turn yellowish and then brown. Harvest the seed as pods begin to split open. Remove the seeds from the pods and let them air dry overnight. Then put them in air tight containers and place in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator over winter. Sealed plastic bags or empty 35mm film containers can be used for this purpose.

DaylilyTo accelerate the growing season, seeds can be started indoors in either seed trays or pots and grown under lights during the winter months. When the ground warms up outside in the spring the transplants can be moved outdoors. Plant spacing is dictated by the amount of space available and the number of seedlings you plan to grow. With limited space, plant close together - approximately 10cm apart in rows about 15cm apart, otherwise plant about 30cm apart in rows about 30cm apart.

Seeds can be planted directly in the ground. Remember that seeds require fairly warm soil temperatures for good germination. Plant your seeds between 4 and 6mm deep. Water frequently so that seeds don't dry out. Keep the beds weeded and water them regularly. Applying a balanced liquid fertilizer on a regular basis is also beneficial. Normally a seedling will flower in the second year. High heat is a notorious cause of failure to set seed. Other problems include; sterile pollen, lengthy or non-functional pistils, and ploidy mismatch--typically, tetraploid crosses to diploids will fail.

Since the mid-1970's, back yard hybridizers and entrepreneurs have been changing how daylilies look and perform. Dozens of American hybridizers are recognized for their distinctive approaches to form, colour, plant health and performance. High bud count is commonplace today. Repeat flowering has been bred into many new cultivars, offering more than one cycle of bloom within a growing season. South African gardeners have a limited number of Daylily growers selling direct to the public (look out for advertisements in the local gardening magazines or contact Dries Olivier at 0832646230 or . For more information about daylilies visit the National American Hemerocallis Society's website at

4.Some summarized facts about Daylilies

Why is the daylily the perfect perennial?

The daylily is sometimes referred to as the perfect perennial because it is:

Available in a rainbow of colours and a variety of shapes and sizes.

Able to survive with very little care in a wide range of climates.

Suitable for all types of landscapes.

Drought resistant and almost disease and insect free.

Adaptable to various soil and light conditions.

Known to bloom from late spring until autumn.

Where did daylilies originate?

The genus Hemerocallis is native to the countries in the temperate parts of Asia Japan, Siberia, Korea, China, and Eurasia.
Since the early 1930s, hybridizers in the United States and England have made great improvements in daylilies. Originally, the only colours were yellow, orange, and fulvous red. Today, we have colours ranging from near-whites, pastels, yellows, oranges, pinks, vivid reds, crimson, purple, nearly true-blue, and fabulous blends.

How do I plant my daylilies?
When you receive your new daylilies, use the following technique for planting them.

After Plants Are Received
New daylily plants, particularly those received through the mail should be soaked for a few hours or overnight in water or in a weak solution of liquid fertilizer.

Before Planting
Make sure that your daylilies are clean and healthy before planting them.

Prepare the Soil
The soil where you intend to plant your daylilies should be worked into a good loose condition to a depth of at least 30cm.

Dig a hole larger than the root mass.

Make a mound in the centre of the hole.

Set the plant in place with the roots spread on all sides of the mound.

New plants should be planted about as deep as they grew originally. The original depth can be determined easily by the band of white at the base of the foliage which indicates the part of the plant which was underground.

Do not set the crown (i.e., the point where foliage and roots join) more than 2,5cm below the surface of the soil.

Work the soil around and between the roots as you cover the plant.

Firm the soil and water well.

Make sure that there are no air pockets; this can cause the plant to grow poorly.

When all the water has soaked in, finish filling in the soil, leaving a slight depression around the plant.

Daylilies should be spaced no less than 40-60cm apart on each side.

Label each of your daylilies with some type of permanent marker so as to identify them. A plant loses much of its value when its identification is lost.

How do I care for my daylilies?

The wise daylily gardener will apply a proper cultural program which includes watering, fertilizing, mulching, possibly spraying, grooming, controlling weeds, and sanitation.

Water is essential for good daylily performance.

Water, supplied in sufficient amounts, almost certainly increases the number and size of daylily blooms.

For daylilies, watering is most important in spring when the plants are making scapes and buds, and in the summer during the bloom season.

Daylilies benefit more from deep watering, which reaches 25cm into the soil, than from a succession of brief, surface watering.

Caution 1: Overhead watering during the heat of the day will cause any open blooms to spot and/or wilt.

Caution 2: Watering in the evening can also cause spots on the next day's blooms.

Caution 3: Be careful not to over water.

Daylilies grow in a wide range of soils and conditions.

To determine the nutrient needs of your soil, take a soil sample and have it analyzed.

Daylilies can do well over a relatively wide soil pH range and adjustment of pH need only be considered if the plants appear to be doing poorly. A soil test as recommended above should always be conducted before amending with sulphur or lime.

In the average home garden, a single fertilizer application in the spring is usually sufficient, although even that may not be necessary every year.

In extremely poor soils or on light or sandy soils which tend to leach badly, more frequent application may be required. Consult with your local agriculture office for recommendations suitable to your soil and climate.

Mulching, although not essential in every area, generally does contribute to better daylilies by improving the soil and helping retain moisture.

Keep your garden neat and tidy.

Many gardeners remove the day's blooms at the end of the day to give their gardens a pristine appearance.

If you hybridize, expect to leave the pollinated blooms on the plants until the blossom sheds and the tiny seed pod is formed.

Controlling Weeds
The most effective weed control measures for the home garden are mulching and hoeing.

Proper sanitation measures lead to healthier daylilies.

In the spring, dead foliage and debris should be cleared away from around your daylilies.

During the growing season, damaged or diseased foliage should be removed.

At the end of the bloom season, cut off the bloom scapes to within a few inches of the ground unless you are hybridizing.

For more Daylily photos visit or contact Dries Olivier at (high resolution photos for publication is also available)

contact personDries Oliviertelephone034 318 2586
mobile cellphone083 264 6230fax
street address3 Virgo Avenue, Signal Hill, Newcastlepostal addressPO Box 8783, Newcastle, 2940
website address
skypemessenger address of Clivia and Daylilies

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