Daylily blooms may only last a day, but they are tied to a lifetime for rural Douglas County gardener Beth Kelley. Many of Kelley’s daylily plants were her mother’s, and she is reminded of her mom each summer when the hardy perennials bloom.
“My mom had a garden that had tons and tons of daylilies,” Kelley explains. “They were all labeled.”
When her mother passed away a few years ago, the family dug the daylilies and gave the plants to friends and family.
“I hear from people all over the world when the flowers start blooming each year,” says Kelley.
While the blooms really do only last one day each, most plants produce new blooms continuously for four to six weeks. Two to four hundred flowers may be produced by each individual plant each summer. Some varieties bloom earlier than others, so planting different types extends the bloom season.
“I have blooms from about the first of June until the end of July,” Kelley says. “I probably have two dozen different varieties of daylilies and about 80 plants total.”
Daylilies are not native to Kansas, but they require little care and can survive on their own if left alone. They rarely re-seed but are also not aggressive growers. Common tawny daylilies, also referred to as ditch lilies, are a classic variety of the flower that brighten roadsides across the Midwest.
Kelley admits pampering her plants a bit by giving them a light fertilizer application in early spring when new growth begins. Daylilies can also be fertilized in the fall. This time of year, she spends her days deadheading (clipping out the spent flower stems). Deadheading prevents seed production and will also help the plant produce better quality flowers the following year. She also divides them regularly to maintain vigorous growth.
Division (of any perennial) is the practice of digging the plant out of the ground and separating the root clump into pieces. For daylilies, each remaining clump should have at least three healthy crowns. Clumps can then be replanted. Daylilies flower best when divided every two to five years. Plants will recover most quickly if the division occurs in September or October, but they can also be divided in the spring.
Kelley looks a little guilty when she tells me that she has not kept track of the varieties of her daylilies.
“The only one I know for sure is called Chipper Cherry,” she says.
The plant has large carmine blossoms with yellow centers and grows next to a taller unnamed daylily with clear yellow flowers. Determining the exact variety names of the others is likely a lost cause. Experts suggest there may be as many as 45,000 hybrid varieties of daylily.
The other daylilies in Kelley’s garden are usually described by their flowers. One of Kelley’s favorites produces giant deep orange blossoms, and the flowers stand about 4 feet tall.
She also likes a daylily that produces large yellow flowers with petals that curl under and have lightly ruffled edges.
“It changes every time a new one blooms,” Kelley says.
The combinations of colors, heights and bloom styles complement each other and the other plants in Kelley’s garden. Tall daylilies with clear yellow blooms grow in a bed with Liatris and Rudbeckia, and a few daylilies grow on the sides of Kelley’s newly installed landscape pond. In another area, a very narrow-petaled yellow daylily variety grows next to a peachy daylily whose blossoms are shaped like stars.
Also striking are deep orange daylilies with lighter orange highlights growing next to a deep red variety in front of a Rose-of-Sharon shrub. Nearby are ruffly peach daylilies growing with purple coneflowers.
Although lily is in the name, daylilies are in a separate family and have a different growth habit than true lilies. Daylilies produce a mass of linear, grassy leaves from their crowns, with multiple stalks that hold the flowers high above the foliage. The genus name, Hemerocallis, translates to “beautiful for a day.”
Kelley’s daylilies, and the gift of them she was able to share with her mother’s friends and family, are beautiful for a lifetime.