by Melody Kendall
Years before gardening became a priority, I purchased some daylilies on a whim. We had just constructed a retaining wall along the back of our lot and we needed something to fill the new shelf of soil. I saw some wonderful daylilies at a local nursery and bought six plants, one of each color. When planted, the daylilies filled the area nicely and I promptly forgot about them. That was 25 years ago and these plants are still going strong.
Hemerocallis is the scientific name for daylily. The spelling for ‘daylily' is just one word. The word Hemerocallis is from two Greek words meaning beauty and day because the blooms only last one day. The good news is that each stalk has multiple buds, and each plant has multiple stalks, so the blooming of each plant can last several weeks and many of the cultivars have multiple flowering periods. With a variety of cultivars in your garden you can get blooms from spring thru late fall.
Sometimes referred to as the perfect perennial, the daylily comes in a vast array of colors, has few pests and can grow in many soil conditions and climates. Native to Asia and hybridized in the U.S. and England, the original colors of yellow, orange and red have expanded to colors from near-white, pink, yellow, orange, vivid red, purple and almost a true blue.
The foliage is yellow-green to blue-green and all colors in between. The leaves are slender and grass-like to as wide as the leaves on corn. Depending on the cultivar, foliage will be upright or arching with a length of 6” to 36” or more. The variety also determines if the plant will be deciduous or evergreen. There are some types that keep their leaves in warmer climes, but lose them in colder ones. As with all plants, to make sure your garden flourishes, pick cultivars that grow well in your location's climate zone.
When planting daylilies consider full sun for the yellow, pink and pastels and in some shade for the darker red and purple cultivars. Plant them in loose, well-draining soil, away from trees so they don't have to share their water. Dig a hole as deep as the root mass, with a mound of soil in the center (look for the white mark on the base of the leaves to determine the depth.) Place the plant on the mound and drape the roots around the mound. Gently cover the roots with the loose soil making sure the plant isn't any deeper than the white mark on the base of the leaves. Pat the soil down and water thoroughly to remove air pockets. When planting multiple plants space them 18” to 20” apart.
Daylilies benefit from deep watering rather than many small sips of water, especially in the spring when they are setting their blooms and in the summer heat. I put compost around my plants two or three times a year. A single fertilizer application in spring is recommended by the American Daylily Society. Make sure to follow the package directions. In spring and during the growing season remove dead leaves and blooms as they occur or when they reach your personal threshold of messiness.
Pests and diseases are few and I have had none to date. Keep an eye out for the usual culprits – aphids, thrips and snails, and look for rust and crown root rot. These can be avoided with proper installation and care. Deer are not interested in the plants but will sometimes dine on the blossoms.
A fun fact is that all parts of the plant are edible for humans. In early spring the new shoots are tender and can be harvested, chopped and added to pasta or stir fry. If you dig the tubers up before they flower, late autumn through early spring, they can be scrubbed and cooked like a potato. Don't bother peeling them and they will only take a short time to cook. In the late spring, harvest the flower buds while they are green and firm and steam, boil or stir fry them or make them into pickles. Summer will provide lovely flowers to view and eat. Just pick them when they are fresh and serve them in salads for an extra crunch or try them dried in soups.
My six original plants survived years of benign neglect and are currently flourishing. Since that first purchase, I have added to my selection by buying more and also receiving some as gifts. I presently have fifteen plants ranging from a butter yellow cultivar to a red one that is almost black. Who knew that because of my original uninformed spontaneous purchase I would now have such worry-free colorful garden plants due in large part to wonderful daylilies.
Sunset climate zones https://www.sunset.com/garden/climate-zones/sunset-climate-zones-california-nevada
American Daylily Society https://daylilies.org/
Pests of daylilies https://www.daylilies.org/ahs_dictionary/pests.html
Diseases of daylilies https://www.daylilies.org/ahs_dictionary/diseases.html
Plants for the future-edible info https://pfaf.org/user/cmspage.aspx?pageid=63
During Napa County's shelter in place directive that protects everyone's health and safety, Napa Master Gardeners are available to answer garden questions by email: firstname.lastname@example.org. or phone at 707-253-4143. Volunteers will get back to you after they research answers to your questions.
Visit our website: napamg.ucanr.edu to find answers to all of your horticultural questions.
Photo credits: All photos by Mel Kendall