A Hemerocallis dayliliy

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Orange day lilies with blue hydrangeas behind them in David Culp's garden in Downingtown, Pa., June 21, 2013. As the vice president of sales and marketing for Sunny Border Nurseries, in Kensington, Conn., Culp also oversees plant research and development, but at home, the plant collector is a master of design. (Rob Cardillo/The New York Times) ORG XMIT: MIN2013080113332843

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Daylilies have their day in the sun

  • Article by: Deb Brown
  • Special to the Star Tribune
  • August 6, 2013 - 12:20 PM


Despite our long, wet spring and late-starting summer, it’s been a dilly of a year for daylilies.

Large swaths of golden-flowered Stella D’Oro light up gardens. Old-fashioned orange daylilies shine in boulevards, highway medians, even along rural roadways. (That’s where these escapees from country gardens got the nickname “ditch lilies.”)

Botanically, daylilies aren’t true lilies, but get their name for their lily-like blossoms, which last only a single day. Without a doubt, daylilies (Hemerocallis species) are tough, resilient perennials that are reliably hardy and extremely long-lived in our climate.

Like hostas, small clumps of daylilies expand rapidly and can be divided and replanted (or shared with friends) every few years. Though they thrive when watered regularly, they’re quite drought-tolerant once established. And they bloom well both in full sun and light shade.

There are reportedly more than 40,000 named varieties of daylilies. Most produce flowers in a color palette of yellows, golds, peaches and oranges. However, you’ll find some that are white (or nearly so), while others come in bluish-lavender, pink, maroon, brick red or mahogany. There also are many bi-colored combinations.

Flower shapes vary, too. And because varieties range from about a foot tall to more than 3 feet tall, it’s easy to find a daylily to fit any location.

Bloom time

In a typical year, daylilies start blooming in late spring or early summer. (Like everything else, they’re late this year.)

While they bloom for only about a month, there are early, mid-season and late-blooming varieties. So, by choosing carefully, you can lengthen their flowering time considerably. There also are “re-blooming” types that put out a big flush of flowers, then bloom lightly and sporadically throughout the rest of the season. (I’ve actually enjoyed a few blossoms in late October.) Stella D’Oro is the most commonly used — some would say overused — re-blooming variety.

If you order daylilies from a catalog, particularly from a Southern state, you may see evergreen varieties that hold their foliage through the winter. Although those types of daylilies may survive here, they’re generally not a good bet for Minnesota. To be safe, buy from a local nursery or supplier based in the Midwest.

Still time to plant

Spring is the best time to plant bare-root divisions, but it’s not too late to add daylilies to your garden now. In fact, you can plant container-grown daylilies through early autumn.

You also can divide large clumps and replant the divisions once they’ve finished flowering. Just get them into the ground several weeks before you expect a frost, so their roots have time to begin to grow before soil temperatures drop.

After planting, apply several inches of mulch to help keep the soil moist and prevent it from freezing as soon as it would otherwise. It’s not a bad idea to rake leaves over the tops of any daylilies you plant this summer to give them added protection their first winter.

The right place

In our climate, daylilies bloom best in full, all-day sun, so choose a location that receives at least six hours of direct sunlight. If you plant daylilies in a shadier location, you may be disappointed by their sparse — or even nonexistent — blossoming.

To create visual impact, plant your daylilies in odd-numbered groups in an area where the soil drains well. They’ll won’t thrive in soil that’s wet and soggy.

Work in some organic matter such as peat moss or finished compost when you plant. Organic matter will help retain both nutrients and moisture in the soil as well as improve drainage in heavy clay soil. It also creates tiny air pockets, which aid in providing the oxygen that roots need for healthy growth. Besides, you’ll never have a better opportunity to improve your garden soil than just before you plant.


Deb Brown is a garden writer and former extension horticulturist with the University of Minnesota.

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