Whether single-colored or intricately patterned, daylilies (Hemerocallis) are practically unmatched for their adaptability and versatility in the garden. Their genetic heritage contains traits from species native to habitats ranging from bogs to rocky mountainsides. Now, thanks to the work of devoted breeders and the enthusiasm of passionate gardeners, choices include a vast range of flower colors, sizes, shapes, and patterns. And because daylilies vary also in height, foliage, and bloom season, they complement any garden.
Creating color harmony is easy once you determine your requirements. Does your garden need a loose constellation of bright, bold stars, or a tranquil pool of pale, creamy blooms-- Modern daylilies are perfect for tying together many color themes. Besides the traditional golds and oranges, they come in reds, pinks, purples, and whites with hints of color.
Some of the most interesting new varieties have a zone of different color or a darker shade of the same color located between the throat and the tips of the flower segments. So-called eyed daylilies have a zone of color on both petals and sepals (modified leaves around the base of the flower). In addition to the striking eyed daylilies, there are many other patterned daylilies, each with a band, halo, or edging of color on the flower. Nearly all eyed daylilies have been developed within the past 25 years, and they include hundreds of named varieties with distinctive patterns.
Daylilies are loosely grouped by their foliage habit as evergreen, deciduous (often called dormant), or semievergreen. Although cold-hardiness is not strictly determined by foliage habit, the groups provide a basis for choosing varieties.
In general, evergreen daylilies are well suited to USDA Hardiness Zones 6 through 9, where they grow throughout much of the year. Some evergreens are also cold-hardy (to zone 4), but their foliage dies back.
Conversely, the foliage of deciduous types (zones 3 through 8) dies in winter even in mild climates. Some deciduous varieties depend on a period of cold weather to stimulate vigorous spring growth, while others grow and bloom well in both the South and the North. However, most are not well suited to zone 8 and warmer gardens, or wherever summers typically include more than 90 days above 86° F.
Semievergreen comprises varieties that don't fall neatly into the other groups. Many of these are hardy in zones 4 and 5.
Wherever you live, there are many eyed daylily options. Because of my cold winters (zone 4), I choose deciduous and semievergreen varieties that tolerate the occasional open winter (one with little snow for insulation). But one evergreen has earned its place here after six winters: 'Pandora's Box', a fragrant cream-colored beauty with a bright purple eye, grows in nearly all parts of the United States.
Look for flowers with unusual color combinations, a long bloom season, and well-branched bloom stalks, so flowers are not closely bunched. Other features that add value to plants include vigorous foliage and flowers that tolerate summer sun and moderate wind and rain.
Flowers should have uniform petals and sepals that form a pleasing symmetrical shape, whether circular, triangular, or starlike. To learn about the possibilities for your area, visit local gardens.
Because daylily bloom time can be variable, the best companions are foliage plants and flowering annuals that provide steady compatibility throughout the season. I planted 'Indy Charmer' next to 'Pewter Veil' coral bells (Heuchera) where both receive more than a half-day of sun but are shaded by woods from the hottest afternoon sun. Both thrive in these conditions. By late July and early August when the daylilies bloom, the coral bells' leaves have assumed the same lavender-purple hue as the daylily blooms. New ruby- or purple-leaved coral bells such as 'Montrose Ruby' or 'Plum Pudding' could also create such color schemes. In warmer climates, however, they need more shade than daylilies do.
For an exuberant variation on matching a daylily's eye color to companion plants, place a brilliant gold and maroon daylily like 'Siloam Jandee' or 'Bold Tiger' behind purple or burgundy petunias or Verbena canadensis 'Homestead Purple' and gold dwarf marigolds. This verbena produces deep purple flower clusters all summer, and its lacy leaves contrast with upright daylily foliage.
Summer-blooming vines on a nearby fence or trellis can also contribute color. Flowers of 'Goldflame' honeysuckle (Lonicera heckrottii), which are pink on the outside and ivory yellow inside, match the blooms of 'Siloam Ethel Smith' daylily. I like to plant mixed nasturtiums in front; some will match the pastels of the daylilies as they weave their hues into the tapestry of the garden.
Classifying daylilies is nearly as difficult as classifying snowflakes. Both have six segments (except for double flowers, which have more) and innumerable variations. Choosing from the hundreds of named eyed and patterned daylily varieties can be daunting. Each year, the American Hemerocallis Society conducts a popularity poll among its members in 15 regions. (For a list of winners, see its Web site, www.daylilies.org.)
The following list is a good starting point; it includes some of my favorite varieties as well as recent AHS award winners. Listings are organized by flower color and size (miniatures are less than 3 inches across; small are 3 to 4-1/2 inches across; large are more than 4-1/2 inches). Also noted are plant size, foliage habit, bloom time, and major awards. The highest award given by the AHS judges is the annual Stout Silver Medal.
'Bibbity Bobbity Boo': deep purple flowers with wide black eye; 18 inches tall; semievergreen; early to midseason with rebloom. Donn Fischer Memorial Award in 1998 for best miniature.
'Black-Eyed Stella': yellow-gold with a burgundy eye; 13 inches tall; deciduous; early with rebloom. All-America Daylily Selection Council award in 1994. Grows from Canada to Florida.
'Broadway Pink Delight': ruffled pink with red eye; 16 inches tall; deciduous; early to midseason with rebloom.
'Siloam Jandee': gold with maroon eye; 24 inches tall; deciduous; early to midseason.
'Dark Eyed Magic': cream with a large purple eye; 22 inches tall; deciduous; midseason.
'Dragon's Eye': pink petals and very large, bright rose eye; 22 inches tall; semievergreen; mid- to late season.
'Pandora's Box': creamy petals and bright purple eye; 19 inches tall; evergreen; mid- to late season with rebloom; fragrant. Annie T. Giles Award in 1987 for outstanding small-flowered variety.
'Cherry Eyed Pumpkin': orange with a bright cherry eye; 28 inches tall; semievergreen; very early with rebloom.
'Custard Candy': creamy yellow with maroon eye; 24 inches tall; deciduous; early to midseason with rebloom. Stout Silver Medal finalist in 1998.
'Rumble Seat Romance': bright yellow flowers with a purple eye; 22 inches tall; semievergreen; midseason with rebloom.
'Indy Charmer': lavender and white bitone (dark petals with light sepals) with purple eye; 18 inches tall; semievergreen; early to midseason.
'Siloam Ethel Smith': light beige-pink petals with rose eye; 20 inches tall; deciduous; midseason.
'Paper Butterfly': peach with violet eye; 24 inches tall; semievergreen; early with rebloom. Lenington All-American Daylily Selections Award in 1998 for best performer over a wide geographic area; has been for sale for at least 10 years.
'Strawberry Candy': rose-pink with darker eye; 26 inches tall; semi-evergreen; early to midseason; very vigorous. Stout Silver Medal finalist in 1998 and the top ranked in 9 of AHS's 15 regions.
'Wineberry Candy': orchid with purple eye; 22 inches tall; deciduous; early to midseason; fragrant. L. Ernest Plouf Award in 1998 for best dormant and fragrant named variety.< with a rose eye; 15 inches tall; semievergreen; early to midseason.
'Forty-Second Street': light pink with rose eye; 24 inches tall; evergreen; midseason with rebloom. Ida Munson Award in 1998 for best double.
'Mount Helena': creamy petals with a rosy-purple band on petals and sepals; 26 inches tall; deciduous; midseason.
Daylilies tolerate a broad range of soil conditions but will always benefit from good soil and frequent watering. If your soil is sandy, amend it with well-rotted manure, compost, or other organic matter that will add and hold nutrients. Daylilies prefer full sun (about 6 hours per day) and well-drained soil. In hot, dry climates, they benefit from some afternoon shade.
In northern areas (zones 3 through 5), spring is the best time to plant; this allows plants to become established. In warmer regions, plant daylilies in early spring or late fall. In all areas, avoid planting in midsummer.
To plant, work the soil to a depth of 12 inches, and set plants no closer than 18 to 24 inches apart. Dig a hole, make a mound in the center, and set the plant on the mound with the crown at the soil surface or no more than an inch below. Firm the soil around the roots, and water well.
As growth begins in spring, feed lightly with a 5-10-10 granular fertilizer, then again in about 3 months. If heavy rains drench the garden, you may need to fertilize more often.
A daylily bed looks best when faded blooms are removed every day or two. Buds also open more easily when freed of old wilted blooms.
Although pests are seldom a problem, consult other gardeners or your cooperative extension office to learn about any local problems. Aphids can cause malformed blossoms. Thrips do little damage to the plant, but they rasp petals within the bud; blooms open with white spots, particularly noticeable on dark-colored flowers. If needed, spray with insecticidal soap in early morning or late evening, not in hot sun.
To rejuvenate established clumps, divide them every three to four years. Commercial growers in very warm climates caution gardeners against dividing and planting when temperatures exceed 85F. Even in my northern garden, I have had better success dividing after growth begins in spring, or in early fall. It is best to complete fall division at least six weeks before the arrival of cold weather stops root development.
Before dividing, trim the foliage to 6 to 8 inches so the crown is clearly visible and there's less foliage to handle. Plant each division with the crown (the point where roots meet leaves) at or just an inch below the soil surface.
Dorothy J. Pellett grows more than 60 varieties of eyed daylilies in her Vermont garden.
Photographs by Suzanne DeJohn/ National Gardening Association
Article published on June 23, 2008.