Plant Profile: Daylilies

The Daylily Days of summer have arrived! Bright color is a little bit later than usual, thanks to our odd spring, but that just means we get to enjoy it for a little longer than usual. The daylilies are in full bloom, and though the flowers themselves only each last a single day, the sheer quantity of buds on each flower scape will make the show last for weeks.

Daylilies thrive in full sun, but will tolerate some shade during the middle of the day. Plants grown in more shade than sun may be less robust and have fewer or smaller flowers than their sunnier counterparts. They appreciate moist, but well-drained soil, but will grow just about anywhere. A couple good shovelfuls of compost or aged manure when they are planted will provide a good boost to foliage and flowers alike. Proper planting depth is important; if daylilies are planted too deeply, they will most likely not flower, as they will put their energy into setting a new series of roots at the proper depth. Certain varieties of daylily will bloom through the entire summer, others will only send up one set of flower buds, and then are done, but the one bloom cycle can last nearly two months.

Most daylilies available on the market today are hybrids, though there are a few species plants that are worth growing. The most recognizable is Hemerocallis fulva, the common orange daylily, or what most people refer to as the “tiger lily”. It is not native, but it has naturalized along most roadsides in New England, and summer just wouldn’t be summer without it. It spreads and colonizes quite readily through root runners and seed. The variety ‘Kwanzo’ is a double-flowered variety, and is the only known triploid (three sets of chromosomes) daylily. It cannot produce seed, so must be propagated by root division. The “lemon lily,” H. lilioasphodelus, is a very old variety, one of the first introduced to the US, and blooms a clear yellow with a delightful fragrance. It is often found near old abandoned foundations, a testament to the longevity of these plants.

Diploid daylilies are some of the sweetest flowers you’ll find. Good pink colors are easy to find, as are the more delicate ‘spider’ forms and double-flowered varieties. They are incredibly easy to breed, making them ideal for the daylily hobbyist that wants to get creative. Some of our favorite varieties are diploid, such as ‘Stella d’Oro’, ‘Happy Returns’, and ‘Hyperion’. ‘Hyperion’ in particular is lovely, as it is one of relatively few scented varieties available today. ‘Fairytale Pink’ is one of many varieties that has what is referred to as “diamond dusting” on the petals, giving them a beautiful white sparkle in the sunshine. There are some that sparkle yellow, and these are sometimes called “gold dusted”, and are relatively less common.

Since the ’90s, daylily breeders have been working with tetraploid (four sets of chromosomes) daylilies. These extra sets of genes have led to amazing variety of colors and shapes in flowers. These often have rounded flowers with wide, curled petals. The edges of the petals can be ruffled or smooth, and may have a different or bi-colored edge. They usually will have an eyespot, sometimes with multiple bands of different colors.

A personal favorite of mine is one of deepest, darkest, velvety wine-purple, with a bright yellow throat. ‘Strutter’s Ball’ is a “designer” tetraploid daylily, and certainly lives up to the label. ‘Persian Market’ is another that I am growing at home, one of the All-America winners, a pinky-orange color. The amazing number of flower scapes put out by this plant keeps it in bloom for nearly 6 weeks. They are both a favorite flower of bees, hummingbirds, and butterflies, and I am more than happy to have them in my garden.