Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Western Mountains and High Plains
July, 2009
Regional Report

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This hybrid red daylily is loaded with blooms in the heat of summer.

Tough and Enduring Daylilies

Despite the hail, high winds, and the onset of hot, dry weather, there are some plants in my garden that I cherish for their tough survival habits. They have a built-in mechanism to adapt to the vagaries of the weather. One of my favorites blooming right now is a hybrid red daylily.

The foliage emerges in the spring like a clump of swords, reaching for light to nourish the roots and store energy for blooming. As the days get longer and temperatures warm, tall stems called scapes emerge to produce clusters of colorful blossoms.

Daylilies are not true lilies, but belong to the Hemorocallis family. The name Hemerocallis is derived from the Greek words hemera, meaning "day," and kalos, meaning "beautiful." The flowers of most types open in the morning and wither at sunset. A healthy and vigorous plant produces many buds, so faded blooms are generally replaced by other flowers on the same stem the next day. The total blooming time on a well established clump may last up to 30 days.

I particularly like the fact that once established, daylilies are very drought-enduring perennials, they are immune to heat stress, they seem to thrive in most soils (as long as they are well drained), and they grow in full sun to part shade. Other than grasshoppers that like to nibble on the leaves, daylilies are relatively free of pests.

Daylilies perform best with early morning sun and light shade in the afternoon. Since my preference is the dark-colored varieties, the blooms are less prone to fading if they receive light shade in the heat of the afternoon.

Daylilies are versatile perennials and can be used for color in shrub borders and perennial beds. Got a tough slope in need of cover? Daylilies make excellent ground covers because their roots hold soil against erosion once the plants become established. But there also are short varieties that adapt well to containers.

My daylilies get minimal care, but they do benefit from some fertilizer. I apply an organic, slow-release granular fertilizer around the plants in spring. This application will last through midsummer when I put down another application to take them through the rest of the year. A light mulch of compost or shredded cedar around the base of the clumps helps conserve moisture in the soil and suppress weed growth.

Deadhead spent daylily flowers by breaking them off. When all the flowers on a scape (stem) have faded, snip off the scape near the base to keep plants tidy and prevent them from going to seed.

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