I'm going to be highlighting some great info and links from @sooby
that got me looking at organic daylily gardening in a whole new way, and I'm hoping she might indulge me in a couple more questions at the end of this post.
I started from a place where chemicals had already become a small part of my daylily gardening routine, and at first I wanted just to "step it down" and seek out more natural products. Now, I see that it is really something, for me, that needs to start from square one, without any focus on chemicals, fertilizers, or additive products of any kind until I know more about the soil my daylilies live in, the nutrients that soil may actually supply, and what is best suited to maintaining daylily health.
Until I know those things, everything else ends up being just a really big distraction for me. So, here is me, starting all over, and hoping to understand more deeply "from the ground up." That means starting with soil or leaf tissue analysis to learn what my daylilies are growing in, and what the plant is actually absorbing.
Sue provided great information and readings to supplement a discussion about soil's nutritional impacts, and the special needs of daylilies. Soil nutrition, and how it supports daylily needs, go hand-in-hand when learning to care for them organically and I'll hope to include more information over time as topics unfold. Here is something she mentioned about testing for both pH (potential of Hydrogen; a measure of acidic, neutral, or alkaline level in soil that impacts the uptake of nutrients) and the three major macro-nutrients, NPK (simplistically; nitrogen that feeds foliage growth, phosphorus that supplies energy, and potassium that maximizes water use, plant growth and health):
"Regarding what to test in addition to pH and NPK, I would include micronutrients, although if you think you have a nutritional problem you might be better getting a leaf analysis which tells you what nutrients are actually being taken up by the plant instead of what is in the soil (and which may not be in an available form). You're not as likely to have micronutrient [mineral] deficiencies if your pH is around 6.5 or below (although if it too low that's another problem)."
To test for pH, macro-, and micro-nutrients, you may be able to find an agricultural Extension Service in your local county that offers soil and tissue testing for free or at low cost. On the other hand, if you are like me and have nothing available locally, you can get professional testing done, or purchase low-cost but highly accurate home kits (http://horttech.ashspublicatio...
If you think there may be a nutrient problem and want to test tissue samples for micro-nutrients yourself, the study linked above identified a top-ranked soil test kit made by a company that also sells leaf tissue test kits. Both macro- (NPK) and micro-nutrient (minerals: ferrous and ferric iron, zinc, copper, manganese, and boron) test kits are available from distributors of LaMotte kits for about $100 each.
To test soil just for pH and macro-nutrients, there are many accurate home tests available. Again, check the prior link for information about test kit accuracy levels as a guide. Almost all of the tissue and soil tests give a numerical reading for pH, and general qualitative rankings for macro- or micro-nutrients (low, medium, or high, for example), so there will be less specific information gained than might be given by professional services. But, they are an inexpensive, easy, and helpful tool for home gardeners who don't have affordable access to full testing, and who want to get a good, basic idea about the composition of the soil in their daylily gardens.
To maintain pH ranges that may be most beneficial for daylilies, Sue mentioned "...there is no published research on the pH range for daylilies. In an article about daylilies: http://pss.uvm.edu/ppp/pubs/oh...
Sinclair Adam Jr. ... suggests a range of 5.5 to 6.5. I'm thinking that's probably about right, even as low as 5 may be OK ... Most of the problems I've heard of came from a pH that was too high suggesting at least some cultivars prefer a more acidic soil. Also, if growing in soilless media, the pH can safely be lower than in mineral soil."
With reference to macro-nutrients, http://books.google.com/books/...
observed that elevated levels of nitrogen, and inadequate levels of potassium, were associated with increased susceptibility to disease. Increasing potassium above inadequate levels, without going into excess, was also associated with increasing resistance to disease.
I'm starting with a highly-ranked home soil test that digitally reads the color range of soil sample and gives information on pH and the macro-nutrients. A kit with enough material to test 10 soil samples goes for about $22 at big box and online stores, and should give me a basic understanding of the soil nutrition already available in my different daylily gardens.
My questions for Sue, if you get time? Might you have a source for any information on phosphorous and daylilies? Given qualitative ranges supplied with home-kit macro-nutrients, do you think a good soil test result might look something like: pH from about 5.0-6.5, nitrogen low, phosphorous low, and potassium "medium or high," at least as a good base to start from or aim toward?