Light Up Your Organic Garden with Daylilies

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By Kathie Bond-Borie, Guest Columnist

Though each flower lasts but a day, daylilies light up the garden with blooms for many weeks. The common orange and yellow stalwarts have given way to color combinations too numerous to list, and browsing a catalog is enough to make an organic gardener swoon.

With flowers that are single or double, ruffled or smooth, large or diminutive, there are daylilies for every taste. Best of all, they ask very little of us—just a partially sunny spot and average soil.

Daylilies are categorized in several different ways:

  1. Deciduous kinds go dormant in frosty weather.
  2. Evergreens can tolerate frost and grow all winter in mild regions.
  3. There’s an intermediate group called semi-evergreen.

The rule of thumb is to avoid deciduous daylilies south of Zone 8 and evergreens north of Zone 7.

Daylilies’ height, as provided in nursery descriptions, refers to the flower stalk, not the foliage. Flower stalks on the shorter varieties grow as high as 12 inches, while the tallest stalks reach more than 6 feet high.

Single daylilies have six petals. Double varieties have a second set of petals, often ruffled. Flower size ranges from 1½ inches (miniature varieties) to 8 or 9 inches across. Some modern daylilies, called “tetraploids,” have twice as many chromosomes as the normal varieties, which gives them larger leaves and flowers.

Daylilies’ color range has expanded to include everything but blue and pure white, and many blossoms are bi- or tricolored.

Growing Tips

Daylily "Superlative".

Vigorous daylilies make weed- and erosion-proof ground covers. Plant them on banks and roadsides or along waterways. Use dwarf daylilies in rock gardens, containers or as edging for flowerbeds.

When planting several daylily varieties, arrange drifts of a single variety. A random mix almost always looks spotty from spring through fall. Group at least three clumps of one variety together to get a more natural look and a stronger impact at show time.

Daylilies grow best in full sun, ideally 6 hours or more daily. But in hot and dry climates, they benefit from some afternoon shade, as well as irrigation during bloom. Many of the deep reds and paler shades better hold their colors in partial shade. In any zone, daylilies will perform reasonably well with half a day’s shade; they just won’t bloom as vigorously.

Daylilies grow well in a wide range of soils. You can plant them successfully almost any time the ground can be worked. The ideal time to transplant and divide is in spring, as the shoots begin to emerge, or immediately after bloom.

In Zones 9 and 10, plant in early spring (February or March) or fall; avoid planting in mid-summer. Likewise, in the Southeast, don’t plant during midsummer because the high temperatures and humidity may cause new plants to rot.

When planting in fall in cold regions, move the plants at least a month before hard frosts to allow new roots to take hold against frost heaving.

Space plants 18 to 24 inches apart. Plant at the same depth plants grew previously or slightly higher to allow for settling. Firm soil, and then water.

Some cultivars can grow for 20 years without requiring division, but others may need division every second or third season. You’ll know it’s time when you notice flower production declining.

A former floral designer and interior plantscaper, Kathie Bond-Borie has spent 20 years as a garden writer/editor, including her current role as horticultural editor for the National Gardening Association. She loves designing with plants and spends more time playing in the garden—planting and trying new combinations—than sitting and appreciating it.

Photo courtesy of the National Gardening Association

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