Dazzling daylilies: Spice up your summer garden

Choosing a variety of daylily cultivars can stretch your colorful gardening season from June to September.

No honorable perennial garden would be complete without those dazzling beauties of summer, each lasting but only a day. I’m talking about the Hemero-what-cha-ma-call-it? Oh yeah – Hemerocallis, the humble daylily.

Often described by gardeners as “jewels” of the summer garden, these Asian natives encompass tens of thousands of named cultivars and can really make a splash when it comes to color. Most of the time they are used in a mixed perennial border, but in the last ten years, the unassuming daylily has also become a staple in commercial landscape beds due to their no-fuss nature. This and affordability has also made the daylily a favorite for the beginner gardener.

Getting started and staging bloom

Because daylily blossoms only shine for one day before withering away, selecting plants that are known to be prolific bloomers (multiple stalks with many buds) is very important. One of my favorite performers is called ‘Primal Scream,’ a huge, orange bloom with slightly re-curved petals and dramatic stamens.

'Primal Scream'
An intense, early-blooming orange daylily known as ‘Primal Scream’ is a heavy-blooming performer.

The other factor to consider is the time of bloom. Early performers, like ‘Happy Returns’ and ‘Stella de Oro,’ shine right about the time school lets out, ending with a nice clump of grass-like foliage the rest of the year. Not much to look at. In my mixed garden, I have cultivars that bloom from June through September. When designing an area that needs yellow blooms, staging and combining three or four cultivars with completely different bloom times will extend your enjoyment. For instance, ‘Mary Todd’ begins blooming for me in early July, followed by ‘Buttered Popcorn’ and then ‘Mary’s Gold.’ A September bloomer known as ‘Sandra Elizabeth’ will put forth dozens of well-branched bloom stalks and finish out the season.

Color options are not a problem when it comes to this genus. Brilliant oranges to bold yellows, soft pinks and delicate apricots are only topped by a range of classy wine colors to almost black. Today’s Hemerocallis breeding has turned up cultivars that have a different colored and heavily ruffled edge that seemingly appears as if the bloom is encrusted with gold. The petals of ‘Barracuda Bay’ sports a ruffled edge resembling golden shark teeth outside of a rich rose bloom.

Heavily ruffled and toothed petals
Petals that are heavily ruffled or toothed are cutting edge with Daylily breeders.

Put it where the sun shines!

Daylilies thrive in a full-sun environment with soils that have even moisture. Don’t let this affect your decision-making though. I can attest that gardeners with less than perfect conditions will not be disappointed as daylilies still put their best foot forward under slightly droughty and partly sunny conditions. For best performance, keep them well-fertilized in the spring and top-dress again after bloom. Your reward will be big plants sporting tons of blooms that you will enjoy for years to come!

Find out about other educational resources and classes at www.migarden.msu.edu and at Finneran’s blog. You can contact the MSU Master Gardener Lawn and Garden Hotline at 888-678-3464 with your questions.

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