garden daylilies

Daylilies can be considered the ‘bread and butter’ of perennial flower gardens. They thrive in nearly any soil, are low maintenance, come in a fascinating array of colors and tolerate heat and drought. There are more than 35,000 registered cultivars on the market today.

Do not confuse daylilies with true lilies — they are not related. True lilies belong to the Lillium genus and have spiked leaves arranged around a stem. Daylilies have a swoop of arching leaves coming from a crown on the ground. Daylilies are edible but true lilies are poisonous. True lilies are grown from bulbs and daylilies have a white portion called a crown between the leaves and roots with small tubers that look like miniature fingerling potatoes.

I grow four different varieties of day lilies and divided some of my largest clumps this spring. My method for dividing them is dig out the clump, take an old hand saw and literally saw the clump into divisions like slicing a pizza. Then remove and discard the outer plants and roots that were damaged by the sawing and replant the newly divided sections. Most instructions for dividing the plants suggest cutting them into divisions with a spade; but I find when they are truly a big root bound clump I can’t get the spade through it and a saw works better. (I also use a hand saw for dividing large hosta clumps.)

Hemerocallis is the genus daylilies belong to. Hemerocallis is a Greek word that has two parts: hemera meaning day and kallos meaning beauty. Aptly named as the flower is beautiful and lasts only one day. They bloom so prolifically that buds opens daily and the plants are a spectacle of color for two to five weeks.  They like six hours of sun a day but can tolerate some shade. Blooms will be increased with a dose of fertilizer twice a season. Cut off the spent blossom stalks so the plant doesn’t use energy producing seed capsules.

A cautionary word about using too many daylilies is in order. A solid row of them can be beautiful when in bloom for a few weeks per season but then the rest of the time it takes up space and offers little in the way of artistic shape or design. Kind of like a big dull flowing skirt with no definition. It is best to plant them as separate accent plants that have value when blossoming and then they can fade into the garden beside plants with more distinctive foliage. Plantings at commercial sites use the yellow Stella de Oro daylily coupled with Karl Forester Feather Reed Grass too frequently. Those two plants have been overused by professional landscapers.

Sharon Quale is a master gardener from central Minnesota. She may be reached at (218) 738-6060 or