Daylilies: The Backbone of the Perennial Garden

Daylilies are not only beautiful and varied, they’re nearly indestructible!

When I first began gardening some 40 years ago, my energies went into annuals that spawned great expectations of glorious blooms to come. Unfortunately, despite my initial eagerness, I’d end up killing most of them through naïve optimism. Somehow, I thought they would water and feed themselves!

Of course they do not, so as I learned from my mistakes I looked for ways to get the best long-term gain from both my financial and labor investment. My grandfather, who spent his life working in his yard, was hounded for information. I stopped to pick the brains of random strangers with beautiful yards, and read every gardening book I could get my hands on. (Personal favorites were “Tasha Tudor’s Garden” and “Crockett’s Victory Garden.)

The discovery of perennials

What I discovered was that real gardeners in your own area are the best source of practical information on what will and will not work, and all that research into their personal experiences lead me to a lifetime love affair with perennials, one of which is the daylily.

When new gardening friends first talked about these treasures, I had a vision of tall, scraggly orange things that I could remember never being particularly impressed with. But then, I found out there were not just other kinds of these troopers of neglect, there were thousands of them.

A deal at any price

Once I became aware of the hybrids, I went searching on Ebay. Lo and behold, there they were, by the tons, and cheap as could be! Back then, Ebay was a fabulously inexpensive source for these plants, so I bought dozens not realizing that it wouldn’t take many seasons for one plant to be ready to divide into many more. (EBay still offers them at decent prices, but not at the steal they once were. But regardless of what you pay, you’ll come out ahead in the end.)

So many choices

I bought every color, texture, size and shape that was offered, and they were glorious. Gardens popped up all over my yard, with daylilies becoming the backbone of each one.

My favorite variety has always been one called Pandora’s Box (creamy white with a royal purple throat), and a close second is the Condilla (deep gold and ruffled). In between are Fairy Tale Pinks, Stella D’Oro, Vera Bigelow and Ida’s Magic, and so many more I’ve forgotten the names of now.

Why daylilies?

What makes these beauties such a wonderful choice? First of all, they’re drought tolerant, pest resistant, and most do well in Zones 3-9. They’ll grow in nearly any kind of soil (though like all plants they do best in well-prepared ground), with or without sun.

In short, they’ll withstand anything you throw at them! (My favorite story to tell in regard to their tenacity is one of having left a stray plant lying on a stone wall when dividing them. I didn’t notice until the plant actually started to bloom nearly two months later – without dirt, without water, baking in the hot sun on stone! I still can’t believe it!)

They also come in all color combinations, shapes, sizes, and heights. There’s a suitable type for every spot in your garden, and each plant has a plethora of buds that bloom at different times from late spring into early fall (though each individual flower only lasts one day, hence the name)!

One plant becomes many

The very best thing about them, though, is that within a few years one plant becomes four or five (or more). They bloom more profusely if divided periodically, and it’s easy to do. My usual method is digging up the clump with a pitchfork, hacking down through the plant (not the least bit gently!) with a spade, and then pulling them apart with my hands. This past summer, I totally redesigned my three tiers of gardens and divided all my daylilies. I literally gave away more than 300 plants to friends and neighbors, and replanted a hundred more.

The best times to divide most plants is very early spring or late summer (before the blooms come or after they have faded) because the root systems will have a chance to take hold before winter.

If you’re looking for nearly carefree beauty that gives a big bang for the buck, you can’t go wrong with daylilies (irises are in the same category).. Check out the photo of my own garden below, and remember I started out with little knowledge.You can do it, too! Happy gardening!

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