A daylily is perhaps the perfect perennial. It thrives in full sun to partial shade, grows happily in a range of soil conditions, is resistant to most pests and diseases, is drought-tolerant, and blooms for weeks each summer. Plus, there are thousands of varieties to choose from in a dazzling assortment of flower sizes, shapes, and colors.
Daylilies (Hemerocallis spp) grow in most regions across North America, thriving in hardiness zones 3 to 9. This popular plant is called a ‘daylily’ because each flower blooms for just one day. That said, the flower stems, called ‘scapes’ have many buds so the flowering period lasts for weeks. These flowering perennials are grown for their bold and brightly colored flowers, I also appreciate their attractive, spiky foliage. It emerges early in the season and offers garden interest from spring through autumn. Daylilies aren’t a true lily, although both originate from Asia. True lilies grow from bulbs.
As noted above, daylily flower size, shape, and colors varies, but so does the plant size and blooming period. Some cultivars bloom early, others mid-season, and others in late summer and even early autumn. By growing cultivars with varied bloom times, you can enjoy the lovely carefree flowers of daylilies for most of the summer.
The best time to plant daylilies
In northern regions, daylilies are generally planted in spring when they have time to settle in and establish a good root system before the cold weather returns. If you find yourself with a new daylily in late summer or autumn, plant it as soon as possible and mulch it with evergreen boughs or shredded leaves in late autumn. This will protect it from extreme temperatures. In warmer regions, it’s best to plant daylilies in very early spring or late fall. Avoid planting daylilies in hot, dry weather.
Daylilies are adaptable to a wide range of growing conditions, but bloom best when they’re given a site with at least six hours of sun each day. They can be grown in less light, but the quantity and size of the blooms may decrease. Plant daylilies in a garden bed with well-drained, fertile soil that has been enriched with compost. The plants appreciate ample moisture but don’t want to be sitting in standing water. Digging in compost boosts moisture retention as well as microbial activity.
Once the garden bed has been prepared, space daylilies 18 to 24 inches apart, depending on the mature plant size. Mulch with bark mulch or shredded leaves after planting. You may also wish to label your daylily cultivars with weather-resistant labels. That first year, water the plants weekly if there has been no rain. Once established, daylilies are drought resistant.
One of the biggest reasons to fall in love with daylilies is that they are very low-care, but they’re also reliable bloomers. To encourage heavy bloom, I give my daylily plants an organic flowering plant fertilizer to provide a steady feed of nutrients each spring. The fertilizer application, paired with a top-dressing of compost is all that’s needed to promote healthy growth for established daylilies.
Deadheading is another task that keeps daylily plants looking good and can promote prolonged flowering. It’s quick and easy to snap off spent flowers with your fingers or a pair of garden shears, but be careful to not accidentally knock off nearby buds.
While daylily plants are bothered by few pests and diseases, daylily rust can be an issue. This fungal disease affects both the foliage and the flower scapes. Be sure to plant only healthy plants and space them far enough apart to ensure good air flow between the plants. Also watch for insect pests like spider mites and thrips, as well as slugs, and snails.
After four or five years, you may notice that your daylily plants are beginning to produce fewer, and perhaps smaller flowers. This is an indication that it’s time to dig up and divide the plants into smaller pieces. Dividing dayliiles sounds intimidating but it’s actually easy.
Dividing starts with digging up the daylily clump and placing it on a tarp. Using a garden knife, like a Hori Hori knife, divide the plant into smaller pieces. You can also use a spade to divide the plant and rootball into sections. Once you’ve finished dividing the daylily, replant the pieces, spacing them at least eighteen inches apart. If you have more than you can use, pot them up and share with friends, family, or host a plant sale.
Great daylilies to grow
When choosing daylily cultivars, like Happy Returns or Catherine Woodbury, you’ll learn there are numerous flower forms and shapes available at garden centres or online. From single flowering daylilies which have trumpet-shaped blooms to spider daylilies whose unique flowers have long, narrow petals. Read plant tags carefully to ensure you choose a daylily that blooms at the time you want and that will fit into your garden space.
Yellow daylily cultivars
Fragrant Returns – Fragrant Returns is considered a ‘reblooming’ daylily and produces its pretty yellow flowers over a long stretch of summer. The trumpet-shaped flowers are fragrant, so be sure to plant this cultivar near a deck or patio where you can enjoy the sweet perfume. The plants also quite compact and grow about eighteen inches tall.
Stella de Oro – This award-winning dwarf cultivar is both early to flower (starting in late June) but also long to flower with a show that continues for months, not weeks. It’s this non-stop show of flowers that has made Stella de Oro the most popular daylily in the world. The bright gold flowers are produced on compact plants that grow just over a foot tall.
El Desperado – There are a million reasons to fall in love with El Desperado. First, each scape offers a very high bud count which means plenty of flowers. But it also flowers both early and then again later in the season so that you have months of color. And talk about color! Each flower has brilliant yellow petals with purple-burgundy centers. The edges of each petal are also slightly ruffled for an eye-catching appearance.
Going Bananas – Going Bananas is a stunning yellow-flowering daylily with large, lemon yellow blossoms held high above the spiky foliage. The flowers are softly fragrant and bloom on and off from early through late summer. The edges of the flowers are slightly recurved, giving them a trumpet-appearance. Expect at least a dozen flowers to be produced on each scape.
Orange daylily cultivars
Orange Smoothie – With up to 30 blooms per scape, Orange Smoothie is a super bloomer! The mango-orange flowers have a deep pink ring and green throat with the edges of the petals recurved and lightly ruffled. The blooms are four-inches across, fragrant, and produced from early to mid- summer.
Primal Scream – This electric orange daylily is part of the Rainbow Rhythm series of daylilies and adds vibrant color to the flower garden. The tangerine flowers are extra large, growing over seven inches across, and held on tall, three foot stems. A winner of multiple awards, Primal Scream adds fiery color to the garden late in the season.
Spacecoast Early Bird – A unique daylily with a unique name, this beauty has peachy-pink flowers with ruffled edges. The center of each flower is a warm yellow and seems to glow. Once mature, each plant can produce hundreds of flowers each summer with the show beginning in early summer.
Pink daylily cultivars
Strawberry Candy – Got a sweet tooth? Be sure to add Strawberry Candy to your perennial beds and borders. Each multi-colored flower has coral-pink petals with a bright strawberry eye and lime green throat. It starts to flower in mid-summer with the bloom period lasting for over a month.
Rosy Returns – The large, four inch diameter flowers of Rosy Returns are almost ombre with light pink outer petals shifting to rose pink mid-petal and finally to deep pink centers highlighted by a bright green eye. This is a compact cultivar, growing just fifteen inches tall, but offering plenty of flower power as it reblooms from late June through frost.
South Seas – I love the HUGE salmon pink flowers of this long-flowering daylily. They can grow almost six-inches across and each petal has a pink stripe which leads from green throat to the ruffled petal edge. The flowers are also fragrant.
Purple daylily cultivars
Purple de Oro – This popular daylily offers breathtaking lavender purple flowers with lighter purple edges and mid-ribs, and a brilliant gold throat. Purple de Oro flowers for weeks and repeats well if the early blooms are deadheaded. The plants grow eighteen to twenty inches tall.
Bestseller – Aptly named, this unique daylily has indeed become a best-seller thanks to its show-stopping flowers. Each bloom has wide purple petals that surround a chartreuse colored throat. The edges of the petals are also bright green, matching the throat, and are deeply ruffled and pleated. Bestseller flowers from early July through early August.
Nosferatu – Nosferatu is part of the Rainbow Rhythm series of daylilies and has deep purple-burgundy flowers with a dark purple eye and yellow centers. The petals are extra wide and lightly pleated. Each plant grows two-feet tall and begins flowering mid to late in the season.
Lavender Tutu – This is a heavy blooming variety that starts to flower in mid-summer and continues pumping out fresh flowers for weeks and weeks. The blooms are soft lavender with wavy yellow edges and butter yellow throats. The large flowers grow up to six-inches across.
If you’re a big daylily fan, you may wish to join the American Daylily Society. And for more information on growing perennials, check out these articles:
- Purple perennial flowers: 24 great choices for the garden
- Shasta Daisies: growing tips for this powerhouse perennial
- Coreopsis ‘Zagreb’ and other easy to grow tickseed varieties
- Types of lilies: 8 beautiful choices for the garden
Do you have any daylily plants in your garden?