Photo: Daylilies interplanted with phlox and other bulbs and perennials at Twin Beech Garden, the home of Dottie Warrell.
You should not need to give daylilies any more care than the average perennial, especially if you select daylilies that are known to do well in your area.
I have a daylily that was planted in unprepared Ohio clay soil, just stuck in a hole out on the hill. I planted it back in 1984. It has not been watered, mulched, fertilized, sprayed - not even divided. It is a big, old fashioned-looking tetraploid seedling from Dottie Warrell, a local hybridizer. It still blooms well every year. I have purposely NOT divided it or cared for it in any way other than having the lawn care guy weed eat around it now and then. To top that off, the two bushes planted near it, an Oregon Grape Holly and a weigela, have grown so large that they block most of the sun. Yet each summer, it sends up lots of scapes that are covered in huge bright yellow blooms. I like to use it as an example to visitors to my garden to show that, yes, you can just plant a daylily and it will grow.
Photo: The old Warrell Seedling - photo taken in 1999. That was over 10 years ago, and you can see the Weigela starting to over take the daylily.
I also have a daylily that my 88 year old mom's great aunt gave to her over 60 years ago. They've been shared with lots of people through the years, and been dug up at various times of the year to be moved wherever Mom moved. She knows them as 'Lemon Lilies' - though I am not sure, exactly, which species they are. Mom shared them with me when I bought this property in 1981. We planted lots of things here before I built the house a few years later. The daylilies grew and bloomed here with no care at all. Those Lemon Lilies started my love for daylilies.
Even though daylilies can survive, bloom and sometimes thrive with no care, there are a few things that you can do to get them off to a good start. I live in Central Ohio, so you need to consider where you live. Your soil, rainfall and weather will be different from where I live.
I start with a good site in which to plant them. They appreciate good drainage and at least 6 hours of full sun every day.
Then I work on soil preparation; in my garden, these plants might be in the same spot for more than 10-15 years, so I think they deserve a little soil preparation. If I am starting a new bed, I'll collect leaves, compost, manure, mulch, anything that will add organic matter to the soil. I've heard of people adding coffee grounds, shredded paper, peat moss, bags of soil conditioner, milorganite, chicken litter, horse manure, alfalfa pellets, all sorts of things. My neighbor brings his small tractor over and tills the area where I want the bed. Then, he helps me layer on any organic material. I always add two things: a scattering of alfalfa pellets and shredded bark mulch. Yes, I till the mulch INTO the soil with the other amendments. I also add a nice layer of compost if I have it. I'll scatter on a little bit of time release granular fertilizer. Then he tills it all in and I let it settle a couple weeks, then I plant.
I dig a hole twice as wide as the size of the roots on the daylily. I try to go deeper, but in my clay, I am lucky to get down 8-10 inches before I run into the original hard packed clay. I then make a mound in the bottom of the hole. I set the daylily on the mound, and spread the roots out. I backfill the hole half way, and add a gallon or two of water, check where the crown is in relation to ground level, then backfill in the rest of the dirt. I take care that the crown is not sticking out of the ground, or more than an inch lower. Ideally, I want it just a bit below ground level here in Ohio. You can also go by the daylily itself. The part that was underground is white and the part that was above ground is green - something like a green onion would be. Try to plant it at the same level at which it was growing.
If I am planting a daylily in an existing flower bed, all I do for soil prep is add a handful of alfalfa pellets to the dirt that will fill the planting hole, and mix them in well.
I'll give it another drink, put the label in beside it and that is pretty much it. I do use pine bark chip mulch, so I will put a bit of that over it. I'll water it before it dries out for the next couple weeks, and gradually cut back on watering as it settles in. I have a well, so I don't do a lot of watering on established plants. This past summer we were really dry where I live. Very little rain. I watered the perennial beds, which includes the daylilies, once a month if it did not rain. I tried to get at least an inch or two on them when I watered. The daylilies did quite well.
I might put some Miracle Grow on them a time or two a year, but it's not something I regularly do. I use Miracle Grow for Lawns, but the regular will work too. Every few years, I'll put some time release fertilizer, such as Osmocoat, on in the spring. Or, a good quality lawn fertilizer - but be SURE it is only fertilizer and does not have any weed killer.
I do keep old foliage cleaned up, just as I do on all the perennial beds. I will either remove it after it frosts a few times, or leave it over winter and clean it all off on a nice warm early spring day.
I like to live-head my daylilies and I like to do it in the evening of the day the bloom is open. This is not required for the plant, I just enjoy doing it. Each bloom only lasts one day, so if you pick the blooms in the evening while they are still fresh, it makes the whole bed nice and tidy and beautiful the next day. An added bonus is the old blooms are not all slimy like they are the day after they close up. Sometimes old blooms will dry up over top of developing buds. It's like the old bloom glues the new bud shut. It's nice if you pick off old blooms, but it is really only cosmetic. I don't think picking off old blooms helps keep new ones coming on, like so many other perennials. However, if you have a lot of seed pods developing, and you're not into growing the seed, it's a good idea to pick the seed pods off. Let the plant keep its energy in growing, not in making seed. What will happen if you don't dead head and you don't pick off pods - nothing! The daylily will keep right on growing and doing just fine.
I've grown thousands of named daylily cultivars in the last 30 years and even more of my own seedlings. I could probably count the ones that died on one hand. I can't even remember the last daylily that died here. I can't say that about many other perennials. I buy heuchera, echinacea, phlox - even monarda - and plan on loosing at least half of them in the first couple years.
Not the daylilies. With daylilies, I prepare the soil, plant, water and stand back and enjoy the show!
For more information on basic daylily care - please see the following:
The American Hemerocallis Society website's Frequently Asked Questions - lots of good, basic information!!
Dan Hansen talks about daylily culture, soil, fertilizer and weed control in a 2 part video on YouTube. He shares his no nonsense thoughts on how daylilies should be grown by the gardener and the seller. Dan does not believe daylilies should prima donnas of the garden. He believes they should thrive when grown by the average gardener, in the average garden without a lot of fuss.
Photo: This clump of Nutmeg Elf has not been divided in years and years. It anchors the corner of one of my perennial beds. Even with the drought this past summer, this clump had over 50 scapes, each with 10-15 buds per scape. The grass in the lawn in the background was brown from the drought, but Nutmeg Elf was putting on quite a show.
Photo: Allison's Wedding as a mature clump. This daylily averages over 50 buds per scape, with very little care. What more can you ask from a perennial? The Japanese Nine Bark 'Diablo' in the background makes a good backdrop for showing off daylilies.
The two planting images are courtesy of Char.