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You see some pretty flowers in a friend’s garden. They give you a fan or two, and then, you see that same flower bloom in your own space the same summer or the next. Suddenly, in the morning light, you notice a hint of diamond dusting on the bloom’s surface, and you are hooked. Diamond dusting is an effect where water droplets within the structure of the daylily bloom shimmer in sunlight.
Next to roses, daylilies are my favorite flower. When I first grew them, I ordered a few fans (daylilies are sold as fans) of older cultivars which I still love. Then, I visited a friend with a large daylily garden. Seeing all those beautiful, trumpet-shaped flowers floating above the foliage, I was besotted. I now have hundreds of them in my garden, and I’ve found it’s easy to tuck in a few more every spring. With over 69,000 named cultivars, there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight. However, I’ve promised my husband I won’t try to collect them all.
April and May are perfect months to plant daylilies in the south. You can also plant them in mid to late September, but not mid-summer, or you’ll have a bunch of dead daylilies on your hands. Simply put, hot roots rot. Further north, you can plant into June. These pleasant perennials make the summer garden glow, and no matter which style you like best: large or small, spiders, unusual form, or round bagels; or, even those with extreme ruffling or quilling, there is a daylily for every gardener’s taste.
They also come in every color combination except blue. That’s right. There are no blue daylilies. So, if you land on a site with photos of blue blooms, click elsewhere. The closest hybridizers have come to the elusive blue flower is a nearly blue eye zone like Steve Moldovan’s ‘Piece of Sky.’ Instead of lusting after something we can’t have (so far), why not try yellow, pink, purple, orange, red, or a combination.
Once thought to be lilies, daylilies are really members of the Hemerocallidaceae family. Their botanical name, Hemerocallis (Greek) translates to “beauty for a day,” and it’s this ephemeral beauty which hooks daylily lovers. Although each bloom ends at sundown, the plant itself can send up scapes (stems) of flowers for a month or more. In areas with good irrigation or summer rain, rebloom is also quite common. Hybridizers keep working to create daylilies with high bud counts and reblooming habits to stay in flower as long as possible.
Daylilies are either tetraploid, meaning they have forty-four sets of chromosomes, or diploid, with twenty-two. A few, including the famous orange ditch lilies, have thirty-three chromosomes and are sterile. Called dips and tets, with fans hotly contesting the best qualities of each, dips often have a more delicate look than tets, but tetraploid flowers don’t melt quite so quickly in the hot sun. In my book, both are beautiful.
These hardy perennials are easy to grow so long as they have good drainage. Of course, as with most plants, better soil equals better flowers, but in the case of daylilies, using a high nitrogen plant food is also a good idea. Every spring, once the foliage is up and growing, I feed mine with Milorganite or another high nitrogen, organic fertilizer like manure or fish emulsion tea. The daylilies respond by building larger plant clumps and thus more flowers.
If you do become obsessed with these perennials, don’t just grow them alone. Instead, group them with other annuals and perennials which will show the daylilies at their best while blooming and help obscure all that foliage when they’re not.