It is no exaggeration to say that Daylilies are one of the premier flowering perennials. From only a handful of wild species belonging to the genus Hemerocallis, breeders have produced tens of thousands of hybrids in a dazzling array of colours, patterns, and shapes. Adding to their appeal is their hardiness, ease of care and propagation and ability to combine so well with other plants. And many are at their best right now.
Daylilies had been cultivated for thousands of years in China before being discovered by the west where they were valued as much for utilitarian purposes, as a food and medicinal plant, as for their beauty. Indeed almost all parts of the plant are edible except the leaves and flower stalks. The petals or whole flowers make excellent additions to salads.
Although species such as H. altissima (which flowers at 6ft with wonderful buttery yellow petals that fade to a soft apricot) are beautiful in their own right, it is the modern hybrids that are so renowned.
Hybridising is especially popular in America where daylilies are known as ‘poor man’s orchids’ because of their exotic looks and the ease with which hybrids can be produced, making daylily hybridising a popular amateur hobby. Because of the proliferation of varieties, those who want to try this for themselves should do a little research first and make sure the varieties they want to cross are not tetraploids with double the number of chromosomes (44 instead of 22) as these do not produce viable seed easily.
Daylilies are amongst the easiest plants to cultivate in gardens and can survive in practically any climate except the very warmest, so no worries there then! Daylilies will grow best in full sun although part or dappled shade will do. Indeed plants with the darkest flowers are better in full sun as the colour will intensify.
Prior to planting, preparing the soil with a little organic matter will be beneficial. Dig a hole large enough to accommodate the root system and tubers. A spade or two of well-rotted manure at the bottom is as good as anything and plants will feed from it for years and require very little in the way of supplementary nourishment. Moist but well drained soil is best although plants will adapt to all but the driest or most waterlogged soils.
Daylilies are amongst the most trouble-free of garden perennials but it is worth knowing about the most common pests or diseases. Daylily rust, a coppery orange powdery substance, can disfigure leaves but it usually does not persist. It can be treated with a systemic fungicide.
A new pest and one that has reached Shropshire is Hemerocallis gall midge. The tiny white fly deposits its eggs on young flowers where the larvae eat the developing flowers causing them to distort and drop off. There is nothing to do but pick off the affected buds and burn them.
Daylilies are also amongst the easiest plants to propagate in the garden. Simple division with a sharp spade when dormant will suffice. What many people don’t know, or often encounter, are small plantlets that are sometimes produced on the flowering stem. These don’t always form roots except in a wet summer but they can be detached towards the end of the summer, before autumn, and put in a glass of water. Treated like a cutting they will be a copy of the mother plant.
By and large all daylilies experience some level of dormancy whether they are completely deciduous or only lose some of their foliage. The removal of old foliage in late winter will keep the plant healthy and prevent diseases or pests from re-infecting plants when the new growth emerges.