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All About Daylilies

all about daylilies

By Judith Irven, gardening expert, landscape designer and writer.

Daylilies: Stars of the Summer Garden

Daylilies are the gardener’s dream come true! Luscious flowers come in a kaleidoscope of colors, blooming from early summer to early fall. Easy to grow and long-lived, most varieties are hardy throughout the United States and southern Canada (Zone 3- through Zone 9). Plus, thrive in a wide range of conditions— from cool hollows to dry hillsides. 

An Ancient Plant Becomes A Gardener’s Delight

All the daylilies we grow in our gardens are descended from just seventeen species of ‘original daylilies’ that are native to eastern Asia, primarily in Japan, Korea, Mongolia and China, where they were also cultivated for many years.

These seventeen species (which are only distantly related to ‘true’ lilies, or Lilium) are grouped into the single genus Hemerocallis, which means ‘lovely for a day’ - a reference to the fact that each individual flower blooms for just a single day. About 400 years ago, plant explorers introduced a number of these daylily species to Europe and eventually to North America.

One introduced species is the familiar ‘Orange Daylily’ (Hemerocallis fulva) that now blooms with ease along country roadsides all across North America. But beware: in some states it is considered invasive. And it's not advisable to plant Orange Daylilies in your garden since, with the help of their strong underground runners, they will soon overrun everything else. They are, however, a perfect choice for hiding ugly building foundations and filling ditches.

Another introduced species is the old-fashioned ‘Grandma’s Lemon Daylily’ (Hemerocallis lilioasphodelus) which still can still be found growing around the old farmsteads and cellar holes in the mountains of New England. With its early bloom time and lovely lemony fragrance, a small patch of Lemon Daylilies makes a welcome addition to any garden.

Today: A Multitude of Cultivated Varieties

Over the last seventy-five years, these seventeen daylily species have become the basis for hybridizers everywhere to try their hands at creating new varieties of daylilies. Depending on their native habitat, daylily species exhibit a variety of traits that can be exploited by hybridizers.

For instance, some species come from the mountains, meaning they will be quite hardy and will most likely go dormant in the winter. Others dwell in low lying areas and, while less hardy, keep their leaves year-round.

Some species have quite tall flower stalks (scapes), whereas others are extremely short. And their flowers range in color from pale yellow to strong orange and reddish, all the way to deep maroon.

Daylily hybridizers, both professional and amateur, have created the array of cultivated varieties of daylilies that are available to gardeners today. These include multi-colored extravaganzas as well as daylilies with extra-long bloom times. It is estimated that the number of different cultivated varieties (or cultivars) of daylilies now runs in the hundreds of thousands!

A hummingbird visits a daylily bloom.

Daylilies Make Your Garden Come Alive

One of the easiest ways to energize your garden is to combine daylilies, with their huge blooms, and other favorite perennials that will bloom at the same time. And, with their striking flowers, daylilies create a dramatic textural contrast when grown alongside ornamental grasses and other perennials. Their strappy green foliage makes a garden look full and lush throughout the season.

Some varieties of daylilies are quite petite, so that two or three plants grouped together would make a lovely accent near the front of the border. Plant these with other short plants such as Nepeta (Catmint), Blue Fescue and Blue Oat Grass to produce a beautiful, enduring contrast of both color and texture for the front of the border.

Other daylilies have flower stalks that grow over 30 inches tall, and these will stand out in the middle of the border alongside Echinacea and Rudbeckia, all mixed in among some clumps of airy ornamental Grass. The whole composition can then be completed with a backdrop of taller Switch Grass.

 

 

Or how about creating a long-blooming multicolored extravaganza by planting some or all of these multi-colored beauties en masse:

Daylily Variety Coloring
Night Whispers Red with yellow throat
She’s Got the Look Pale pink fading to creamy center
Simmons Overture Pink outside, burgundy then yellow throat
Moroccan Sunrise Crimson red with yellow throat
Magic Dancer Crimson red, burgundy and yellow throat
Irresistible Charm Red frilled outer rim, yellow and red center throat
Lavender Tutu Yellow frilled outer rim, peachy lavender then yellow throat
Entrapment Lilac with yellow highlights

 

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About the Author: Judith Irven is an accomplished Vermont landscape designer and garden writer, and she delights in helping people everywhere create beautiful gardens. You can visit her online at: OutdoorSpacesVermont.com.