Home & Garden: Tips for Planting and Caring for Daylilies

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I don't think it's possible to garden where daylilies grow and not be tempted to plant one or two (or more!).

  Tips for Planting and Caring for Daylilies © Evgeniya Matveeva/Getty Images

I live close to a daylily farm so I have several varieties in my garden. My favorites include 'Hyperion,' an heirloom variety first introduced in the 1920s, and 'Notify Ground Crew,' which has flower scapes (stems) almost six feet tall.

What Are Daylilies?

Daylilies are popular, easy-to-grow perennials with long, strappy foliage and lily-like flowers that grow on stems called scapes. Although once only available in yellow, hybridizers have created and registered thousands of varieties in a wide range of colors. Now daylilies come in almost every color except blue and pure white.

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Daylilies belong to the plant genus Hemerocallis, derived from Greek words for "beauty" and "day," because each flower lasts for one day. Fortunately, most daylilies produce many flowers over several weeks, so new blooms open each morning.

Types of Daylilies

Any gardener can quickly become overwhelmed by the thousands of daylily types out there. Type can be based on the foliage, the flower form, bloom time and height.

  • Foliage: Daylily foliage can be deciduous and die down to the ground each winter, or it can be evergreen or semi-evergreen and persist through the winter.
  • Flower form: The American Daylily Society officially recognizes these flower types: single, double, spider, unusual form, sculpted and polymerous (whorled).
  • Bloom time: Daylilies can be further grouped by when they bloom. Some bloom early in the season, others later, and some rebloom throughout the growing season. One of the most widely planted reblooming daylilies is 'Stella D'Oro.'
  • Height: Daylilies vary in height as well, and may have short, medium or tall scapes. Generally, scapes range from eight to 24 inches on short varieties, 24 to 36 inches on medium varieties and 36 inches to more than five feet on tall varieties.

When To Plant Daylilies

As with many perennial flowers, the best time to plant daylilies is in the spring in colder climates and early to late fall in warmer climates. Where summer temperatures are mild, they can be planted throughout the season. Just be sure to keep them well-watered until they've become established.

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Dee Nash, author of The 20-30 Something Garden Guide and a longtime member of the American Daylily Society, says you shouldn't plant daylilies when temperatures rise above 90 degrees, because their fibrous roots will rot regardless of how often you water them.

"If you're given a daylily start in the summer, plant those in containers, and on hot days put them in the shade," Nash says. "By the time cooler temperatures come, your daylily will probably have increased to at least another fan of leaves."

How To Plant Daylilies

Daylilies prefer sunny locations with rich, organic soil. Once established, they generally require little care.

Plant them so approximately one inch of the leaves above the roots are in the ground. Space them 18 to 24 inches apart to allow room for growth. Because daylilies gradually increase in size, you can dig them up and divide them every three to five years.

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When Do Daylilies Bloom?

Depending on the variety, daylilies bloom at various times during the summer months. To ensure you have daylilies in bloom throughout the season, plant different varieties that bloom at different times.

Visit a nearby daylily display garden to learn when specific daylilies bloom. The American Daylily Society maintains a list of display gardens open to the public.

How To Care for Daylilies

Though each daylily flower lasts for only one day, they'll have several blooms for several weeks, depending on the variety.

"For daylilies to open well and look their best, deadhead them daily or every other day," Nash says. "Otherwise, the dead flowers will catch on the opening flowers and keep them from opening all the way. Also, it just looks neater." To deadhead daylilies, pinch or cut off any faded blooms.

Nash adds daylilies love high nitrogen fertilizer.

How To Divide Daylilies

Daylilies are shallow-rooted and easy to dig up and divide. Use a digging fork or small spade to dig up a clump of daylilies, then separate it into sections. Most daylilies separate easily into a fan of leaves with roots attached.

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Before replanting a fan, cut the foliage down to about six inches or so. If the daylily is blooming, cut off the bloom scape as well. Replant as soon as possible to avoid too much stress. If transplanting in the fall, do so early enough to allow the daylilies to become established before winter.

One last tip: Plant daffodil bulbs between your daylilies. The daffodils will bloom in the spring before the daylily foliage emerges. Once the daylily foliage starts growing, it will hide the fading daffodil foliage. A perfect pair!

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