Daylilies add color to early summer gardens

Richard Bogren, Gill, Daniel J.  |  1/4/2011 1:15:33 AM

For Release On Or After 04/30/10

By Dan Gill
LSU AgCenter Horticulturist

Daylilies are coming into bloom now, and gardeners would be hard pressed to find a plant that provides so many colorful flowers for so little effort. Available in an amazing variety of colors, shapes and sizes, you can find daylilies to fit virtually every taste and garden situation.

Although not a true lily, the daylily is a member of the lily family. Its botanical name, Hemerocallis, is derived from two Greek words meaning “day” and “beauty” and refers to the fact that daylily flowers last only a day before they fade. This might seem a major flaw, but these plants produce so many flowers over an extended period, you hardly notice that each one lasts such a brief time.

Breeders have developed the daylily into an incredibly diverse plant. With careful variety selection, you can have daylilies in bloom from late spring to early fall. The height of various varieties ranges from 8 inches to several feet – including the flowers – and the diameter of the blooms may vary from 2 1/2 inches to as large as 8 or 9 inches. The flowers come in a multitude of color combinations including yellow, orange, rose, burgundy, purple, pink, cream, lavender, red and many others.

Daylilies have three types of foliage habit. Dormant daylilies lose their foliage completely during the winter. New foliage appears in the spring. Evergreen daylilies retain their foliage throughout the year. Semi-evergreen daylilies’ foliage dies part way back in the winter, but after a brief rest, begins to grow again. Gardeners in our area should grow evergreen or semi-evergreen types.

Most daylilies bloom best in full sun. They will tolerate partial shade but require at least six hours of direct sun each day for best results. Light yellow varieties, many shades of pink and delicate pastels need full sun to bring out the colorings, while deeper colors may benefit from shade in the hottest part of the day.

Any good garden soil is fine for growing daylilies. They thrive in a variety of soils, ranging from light sandy types to heavy clays. To get any soil in good physical condition, dig it deeply and work in generous amounts of organic matter such as well-rotted manure, compost or peat moss. This organic matter helps maintain good tilth, retain soil moisture and act as a storehouse for plant nutrients. For best performance, plant daylilies in well-drained soil.

Early spring or late fall are the most desirable planting times; however, well-established plants grown in containers and bought locally can be planted virtually anytime. Space daylilies 18 to 24 inches apart. Some varieties multiply fast, and the clumps will become crowded if planted too close to each other.

Although daylilies generally don’t need to be pampered, an adequate supply of water will ensure peak performance, especially the first year after planting. During the summer, plants should be watered once or twice a week when weather is hot and dry. Water deeply, soaking the soil to a depth of 6-8 inches, and water each week when there is not at least 1 inch of rainfall. A 2-inch mulch of leaves or pine straw will help conserve moisture and reduce weed problems.

A single application of a complete fertilizer in March is generally adequate, although a second application could be made in June. Use any general-purpose fertilizer. A final application can be made in early fall as a new surge of growth occurs on many varieties. Keep the fertilizer off the foliage and water it into the soil after applying.

Aphids are the most serious insect pest of daylilies. They are most common in the late winter and early spring and cause the leaves and flowers to be unhealthy and deformed. Treatment with the insecticide acephate is effective if the infestation is severe enough to warrant it.

You need to be aware of a new fungus disease called daylily rust that is causing concern. Daylily rust was first reported in the Southeastern United States in 2000 and has spread rapidly to many states, including Louisiana. The disease causes the foliage to yellow and brown. Turn an infected leaf over, and you will see raised orange spots on the back of the leaf. The rusty orange spores will rub off on your finger. Susceptibility of daylily varieties to this disease varies – some are very susceptible and others seem fairly resistant. Gardeners have the choice of eliminating the very susceptible cultivars that show the worst symptoms and retaining those that don’t seem to be bothered as much by the disease.

Should you decide to treat the disease, the infected plant should be cut within an inch of the ground, and it and all the plants around it should be sprayed regularly with a fungicide. Recommended fungicides include mancozeb (Dithane, Fore), chlorothalonil (Daconil), azoxystrobin (Heritage), propiconizol (Banner Maxx) and triadimefon. Applications may need to be repeated as often as every seven to 14 days. Follow product label instructions carefully.

It’s likely that the best solution to this problem will be to use existing and newly developed varieties that are resistant to the disease. More information on daylily rust can be found on the Internet at www.daylilies.org/ahs_dictionary/daylily_rust.html.

Rick Bogren

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