Day Lilies

By Dee Nash July 2017

the perfect perennial for Oklahoma gardens

With nearly 89,000 registered cultivars, daylilies, Hemerocallis, have been called America’s favorite perennial. Gardeners love their ability to grow in almost any soil, and their capacity to bloom in spite of hot and dry summers. Daylilies might just be the perfect perennials for Oklahoma gardens.

In fact, daylilies and Oklahoma summers go together like ice cubes and lemonade because daylilies are one of the most forgiving perennials blooming in a hot Oklahoma summer. It’s true that they quit blooming by fall, but autumn is the best time to buy new daylilies and divide existing ones.

Plant daylilies in spring or fall, avoiding the summer months because newly planted daylilies will rot in hot temperatures due to their shallow and moisture-retaining root system. Dig a hole and spread roots over a mound of soil packing soil beneath the daylily crown. You don’t want air pockets, or your daylily will freeze in winter. In spring, feed daylilies with a high nitrogen fertilizer to increase clump size and flowering. I use Back to Nature and other natural fertilizers with alfalfa or manure. Mulch plants with an inch or two of compostable mulch like shredded leaves or bark. Daylilies appreciate a good drink of water from a soaker hose or drip irrigation. You can also use sprinklers when plants aren’t blooming, but sprinklers waste water in a hot and dry climate like ours and can spot blooms. 

Daylily hybridizers have created daylilies in nearly every color except blue and pure white. The daylily is considered the most hybridized plant grown by gardeners. The wide and diverse selection of color and form is remarkable when you consider that the original flowers only came in yellow, orange, and rusty fulva red.

To divide daylilies, dig the clump with a garden fork or shovel. It’s easier with a garden fork because those tines can work through hard clay soil and around fleshy roots. Place your daylily clump on plastic or other surface and position two forks opposite one another, pulling the daylily apart into sections called fans. Run water over the roots to loosen soil to see the best way to divide. Divide into double or triple fans and replant. Try not to break roots when dividing and don’t divide daylilies during hot weather.

When buying daylilies, it’s hard not to fall for a pretty face, but practice due diligence before you buy. At one time, daylilies were hard to find at local nurseries, but that is changing. If you can find a plant in a container already starting to bloom or, at least with scapes, you can see how it grows. If the scapes grow tall above the foliage, are well-branched, and if the bud count is heavy, that is a probably a good daylily. The only thing left to consider then is whether you like flower color. Some people don’t like orange, but ‘Screamcicle’ is one of my favorites because it is a two-toned orange, and has great bud count with scapes that rise high above its grassy leaves.

Daylilies should have presence. Even miniatures can have great garden charisma if they bloom in abundance and are placed at the front of the border. Also, try to buy daylilies that bloom early, mid and late to cover the entire season. If you do, you can get two months of steady bloom.

Daylilies give so much for so little. Try some in your little patch of paradise, and you’ll see why they are favorites of gardeners everywhere. 

new daylilies and divide existing ones. Photos by Dee Nash

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