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All You Need To Know About DAYLILIES
Welcome through Fred's Garden Gate! Among the easiest perennials to grow in the average garden, Daylilies are long-lived, attractive and largely problem-free. And if a small amount of care is provided, they will reward you with a lifetime of color and pleasure. Each individual flower normally lasts only one day - from roughly sun up to after sun down. Most continue an approximate 21-day period of bloom; some re-bloom a few weeks later in the season; a few are nearly continuous bloomers (Stella d'Oro, Black-Eyed Stella and our own Hill's Iced Raspberry Sorbet (which displayed lustrous color for nearly 12-weeks during 2000), and a most charming little pastel yellow by the name of May May, for example). Some begin flowering very early in the season; some during the middle; others late and very late, nearing fall. In warmer climates, some even retain their foliage throughout the year. By carefully selecting several varieties, it is possible to enjoy magnificent color in your sunny perennial border from a few weeks after the last spring frost, right up until the first fall frost...sometimes beyond! The last few flowers of varieties like Autumn Daffodil and Autumn Blaze, for example, are almost always nipped by the first frost in the fall.
And Doubles? Take a quick look at these two magnificent beauties!
Soil Preparation: Select a spot that gets at least six hours of sunlight - hopefully more. Well drained, deep, preferably sandy, slightly acid soil (pH 6.5) will give your Daylilies their best shot at success. Spade deep and be sure to remove invasive weeds and tree roots from the bed. Add a little bone meal (or rock phosphate if you have problems with skunks or the neighbor's digger-dog) and a goodly portion of well-rotted compost. Our Daylily gardens are maintained at least 55% organic matter...mostly compost. Some beds are actually all compost...and the plants love it!
When To Plant: You can plant Daylilies just about any time the ground isn't frozen. The earlier you can get them started in the spring, however, the more likely they are to bloom the first year. Those that don't get into the ground until fall (or late fall) may need to be mulched for winter protection. Plan ahead...and do it as early as you can.
Where To Plant: Daylilies tend to "lean" towards the strongest source of light - an important piece of information to consider. Bloomscapes (several plants in some organized fashion - like near a stone wall or in the border) are usually most effective. They like well-drained soil and really don't tolerate deep shade, so give them plenty of sun, good drainage and a fairly rich place to send their roots. A little afternoon protection from the roaring hot summer sun will hold flower color longer.
Depth To Plant: Probably the worst thing you can do to a Daylily is to plant it too deep. Place the crown about an inch (no more) below the surface. The crown is that point at which its roots and foliage meet. A daylily roots are fragile, so be gentle - it stores energy in those fat roots, so if too many break off, the poor thing may run short of "gas" early in its young life. Gently spread roots out and allow soil to go between them - don't just jam the thing into a quick hole in the ground. Water each plant thoroughly soon after planting and maintain a moist condition for a couple of weeks - but don't create a mud hole. A light mulch of pine needles or shredded bark will help hold moisture on those hot, dry summer days.
Cultivation: Gentle and shallow is the watchword because of the easily damaged fleshy roots. You might consider keeping your Daylilies under a light mulch of pine needles or attractive shredded bark so precious moisture isn't wasted, and so they rarely require cultivation. Weeds pull out easier, too. Just keep in mind that bark or wood chip mulch acidifies...so watch your pH. Decomposing bark is also a heavy-duty nitrogen consumer, and will grab every scrap of that important element away from plants -- so keep an eye on plant food, too.
Winter Protection: Up here in Northern New England (Zone 4 where we are), where the cold winds and ice lash and torment most gardens, we suggest that three or four inches of a porous material which doesn't mat down and smother should be placed over and around your plants after the frost has burned back the plant's own leaves. Don't cut away the old leaves until spring - they're Nature's mulch. During the summer, leaves shade the soil...then protect your plants during winter. Rake off the mulch and trim away all of last year's dead foliage in the spring after the danger of severe frost has past. Hill's Sweet Double-P is one of our 1994 hybrids.
General Care: For neatness sake, snap off spent flowers daily after they've withered. It isn't necessary, but it looks better. After all flowering is past, a top dressing of old rotted barnyard manure (sterilized if possible) and a modest application of either 10-10-10 or organic equivalent of bloodmeal/bonemeal/greensand will serve to best prepare for next season's display of color.
Daylilies should be dug, divided and the soil rebuilt every three or four years. They'll look better and will really appreciate freshened soil. Dividing isn't absolutely necessary, though. We know of old clumps that have been in the same spot for decades - they just keep blooming away. Flowers aren't as big, and some varieties tend to try to take over, so we recommend dividing and sharing with friends and neighbors.
Hybridizing: In the home garden setting, hybridizing is so easy, even a child can do it! Fact of the matter, youngsters often took advantage of our popular nursery program offering free instruction and guidance on the subject. The nursery is now out of business but we still welcome visitors who would like to "borrow" our pollen to create a seed pod that they pick up in the fall. Ask!
Here's an idea: when your daylily beds over-grow and you have far too many for your own garden use, consider establishing a beautiful - not to mention therapeutic - daylily garden at a local nursing home or rehabilitation center. Both the board of directors AND residents will appreciate it!
Hybridizing of daylilies — the production of new varieties through the
manual transfer of pollen between selected flowers of different cultivars — is
easy, uncomplicated, and is the primary source of most of the more than 45,000
named varieties in existence today. There are a great many methods of
hybridizing — most get the job done satisfactorily. Here’s mine:
THE TWO VARIETIES YOU’D LIKE TO “CROSS.”
The “pros” — those who work nearly full-time producing new colors and
forms of daylilies for fun, notoriety and, quite often, for profit — have
developed a precise system and set of rules for selecting parents that are not
only genetically compatible, but that will enhance or incorporate particularly
desirable flower characteristics.
If, on the other hand, you want to leave very little to chance, our Daylily Variety List will provide you with the genetic information (whether tetraploid or diploid). Always, in this case, cross a tet with a tet...and a dip with a dip.
The two we’ll cross for the purposes of this article: ‘Chicago Apache’ (a stunning scarlet tetraploid), and ‘Hill's Silver Sweetie’ (one of my 1998 tetraploid seedlings). I’ve removed the flowers only for the purposes of this picture. You won’t do that. . .leave the flowers on the plant.)
TRANSFER POLLEN FROM ONE FLOWER TO THE OTHER. Each flower has seven thin structures arising from the center (throat): 6 stamens (the male or “pollen” part) and one pistil (the slightly longer female part). Shortly after the flower unfurls in the morning, those packets of pollen at the ends of each stamen “open” to expose the fluffy yellow powder-like male element.
remove one of those pollen packets and transfer some of the substance to the
pistil of the other flower. Some people prefer to use tweezers for the purpose.
Here’s a close-up of the process:
Now, for interest’s sake — and to produce
additional color variations
or other flower characteristics, I do what I call a “double-cross” and move
pollen from the one we just pollinated back to the one we originally took
the pollen from (first was pink-to-red. . .now it’s back to red-to-pink).
Since virtually every seed in a pod will be slightly (perhaps even dramatically)
different from every other seed in that same pod, the potential is nearly
endless! Doing a “double-cross” multiplies your chances for even more
interest and excitement.
a most important step: attach a small label to the flower stem that records the
date and the names of each “parent” involved in this cross. In this case,
the label will read: “Chicago Apache to Hill's Silver Sweetie 7/18/03”. Another label,
of course, with “Hill's Silver Sweetie to Chicago Apache 7/18/03” will go on the other
flower (the routine for me is “pollen-parent” to “seed-parent”).
The next day, the flower will have wilted (don’t dead-head that
flower!) and, within another day or two, it will fall, leaving behind the
beginnings of a small
Remember to be very careful as
you accomplish your daily deadheading chores in the daylily bed — you don’t
want to accidentally snap off your precious seedpod full of “babies”!
If your cross was done
early enough in the season where you live, freshly harvested seeds can be sown
immediately — actually giving you what amounts to a 1-year “jump” on
seeing the actual color results of your efforts. Use any commercial
seed-starting mix and cover your seeds with ¼” to ½”. Moisten thoroughly
and place in a protected spot away from direct sun and intruding critters like
squirrels, birds, and slugs.
can also be sown directly outdoors in a prepared garden bed. Pick a protected
spot — that you will clearly label for each cross you made — and rake it out
smooth. Sow seeds about ½” deep, spaced about 6” apart in definite,
straight rows. (Planting in rows makes the task of weeding easier, and you’re
less apt to accidentally “weed-out” a precious seedling.) Maintain constant
soil moisture — but not a “mud-hole” — during the germination period
which may take from one to two weeks. They look like grass when they sprout so,
again, be very cautious when weeding the bed.
light layer of mulch around the now-fast-growing seedlings will moderate soil
moisture and temperature, and help to stifle weed-babies. Nothing else needs to
be done until the following spring, when a balanced, granular fertilizer (I use
10-10-10) is applied at the rate of about a half-teaspoonful for each emerging
plant — lightly cultivated in and then watered.
You’ll feed again — about
a teaspoonful for each plant this time — at about mid-season (July 4th
in Northern-tier states) — and continue to eliminate any weed competition.
Sow spring seeds indoors about 4 to 6 weeks before last anticipated
frost. In Maine, that’s early April. Keep the seedling container in a
consistently warm, very bright spot — and protect it from those sharp
fluctuations in temperature normally seen on windowsills.
Transplant outdoors after the danger of frost has past. (Yes, the root
systems are hardy and are somewhat protected underground. . .but tender,
new foliage won’t be able to survive even a light frost. . . and you want to
give them their best shot at life in their first year!) Select a bright, sunny
spot with deep, rich, well-drained soil. Adjust soil pH in the root zone to
between 6.5 and 7. A light application of 10-10-10 fertilizer at the time of
planting and again early in July will encourage rapid, healthy growth.
WILL MY NEW SEEDLINGS BLOOM? If
sown during the year of harvest, then wintered over outdoors with a light mulch,
it is conceivable that most will bloom during their second full year in
the garden. However those first flowers usually don’t show their true
color and form until the 3rd or 4th year.
(By the way...there's no picture of the results of the cross pictured in this article because it'll be two years — maybe three — before we see flowers.)
PROLIFERATIONS. Occasionally, small plantlets will develop on the flower scapes of some varieties. They can be removed and planted to expand your daylily border. Descriptions of how to do that — with close-up photos of the process — are below. Keep reading!
Once in a while, usually near the end of the season (at least in our northern-tier growing area), a small plantlet — or cluster of plantlets — will develop at a bract along the scapes of mature daylily plants. Remarkably, the proliferation may actually produce a flower scape of its own! I never allow those usually pitiful blooms to remain...seems to me that such a tiny plant shouldn't have to carry that kind of physiological "load".
If a prolif is
allowed to remain until it reaches maximum size on that flower stem, roots will
eventually develop and, when the stem turns brown (indicating that no additional
nutrition from the scape will be forthcoming), it can be removed and planted.
Proliferations are exact duplicates of the parent plant — a
First, don't be too hasty! If at all possible, leave proliferations on the scape until they have developed recognizable roots. On some, like those pictured above, multiple prolifs develop. I like to remove any that appear small or distorted, and allow only a vigorous one or two to continue development. Yes, the weaker ones will likely become plants, too, but the goal should be first-rate, strong, and healthy...not "I've got to try to rescue this poor little gasping weakling."
Next — after your prolif has developed about as far as is practical — it should be removed from the plant, with about 4" of strong stem remaining below its connection. Clean it up a bit, being careful not to damage any roots, and trim the leaves back to about half their length.
You can either plant it in a container filled with clean garden soil or any commercial soilless mix, or insert it into a prepared spot near the parent plant. It might help to make the lower cut on a sharp angle so it'll be easier to press into the soil. Insert up to the point where the roots are about a half inch below the surface. Be sure to label each variety, particularly if you will be sharing them with gardening friends...especially if you're planning on selling or trading them later.
You'll want to carefully observe and maintain soil moisture — they won't like being allowed to dry out! Continue watering until frost sends your garden to its winter rest. This late in the season — especially in northern-tier gardens — fertilizer is neither needed nor indicated. Late-season feeding will stimulate tender new growth that may have a tough time making it through winter. Once the ground has developed a crust of frost, apply a loose and airy two- or three-inch mulch of something like pine needles over these fragile new babies. A better plan would be to grow them out in a protected location like a coldframe.
When spring arrives, remove the mulch and, as vigorous new growth begins, apply and cultivate in about an ounce of any balanced, granular fertilizer...I use 10-10-10. A second application of the same fertilizer during mid-summer (July 4th in our Maine location) will give them the refreshing boost they need as earlier applications are exhausted or leached away. Remember that daylilies look and perform their best in a soil whose pH is maintained somewhere between slightly acidic (6.5) to neutral (7.0). Ground limestone is the least expensive of consumer soil sweeteners. A new and reportedly highly effective sweetening product utilizing recycled ash is now being marketed in the Northeast under the name of "Heart & Soil" and should be showing up in nurseries and garden centers soon. For more information, visit: http://www.heartnsoil.com/.
Flowers are possible during its first full season in the garden...but don't count on it.
To learn more about soil pH and its relationship to nutrient availability and up-take, refer to the archived article: Soil pH...Neglect it and ensure almost certain failure!, or for a complete discussion of the subject, read Chapter 2 of Fred's book, Keys To The Garden Gate.
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