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Tips for growing gorgeous daylilies

By: Chloe Deike
Learn an expert’s secrets to growing stunning daylilies every year, from how to decipher a daylily catalog to maintenance once they’re in your garden.

Daylilies are easy to grow and they’re everywhere: the neighbor’s backyard, city hall and even in the ditch. But that doesn’t mean they’re just a boring flower that fills empty space!

Get tips for growing gorgeous daylilies from an expert

Nikki Schmith accidentally wandered into an American Hemerocallis Society (AHS) daylily show while at the mall one day and was floored by the gorgeous flowers poised for competition. They weren’t just the common yellow ‘Stella d’Oro’ everyone knows: Each flower was unique in its own way. Now she grows more than 500 different cultivars, 15 of which she bred herself, and has eagerly dedicated years of service to the AHS. She is a past President and is currently a member of the Board of Directors.

American Hemerocallis Society

The AHS was founded in 1946 and is dedicated to educating, promoting and enjoying daylilies.

Membership with the AHS includes:

  • Quarterly publications and regional newsletters
  • A yearly conference
  • A chance to exhibit at regional daylily shows
  • And more!

Each region has registered display gardens. Addresses of display gardens are published on the Web site, www.daylilies.org, and you are welcome to visit the gardens during blooming seasons. Nikki’s home is a display garden in Illinois!

how-to-grow-great-daylilies-daylily-garden-border: Unified by the same foliage shape and color, three different daylily cultivars can be planted next to each other without looking mismatched.

Delightful and diverse world of daylilies

Why are Nikki and other gardeners devoted to growing these resilient beauties? Well for one thing, there are more than 90,000 cultivars registered with the AHS —that means there are at least 90,000 ways this flower can be unique. How? Whether it’s flower form, hardiness, fragrance, bloom time or more, each new cultivar boasts a different characteristic. This difference is as noticeable as more blooms per plant or a brighter colored flower (in any shade but blue), or as subtle as a change in the markings on the petals.

Anatomy of a daylily

A typical daylily flower has six segments. Only the top three segments are actually petals. The second layer is considered sepals. This will help you better understand some of the definitions outlined in “Daylily terms” below. The endless characteristics of a daylily are like the cuts of a diamond —lots of beautiful parts make one shining plant.

And it doesn’t stop with their gorgeous appearance. Nikki loves that each daylily has a special story. If you take a walk through her garden, you can hear a tale about whose hands a daylily came from or what influenced the plant’s name.

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daylily-terminology-reference-graphic: A) ‘Siloam Double Classic’ daylily; 
B)‘Wild and Wonderful’ daylily ; C) ‘Blackthorne’ daylily; D) ‘Malaysian Marketplace’ daylily

Daylily terminology

Check out the images above for reference to some of the daylily terms we have outlined below.

Daylily flower forms

  • Single daylily Three petals and three sepals
  • Double daylily More than one whorl of petals and sepals or peonylike outgrowth (See photo A above)
  • Spider petals Petals that are much longer than they are wide
  • Polymerous More than the normal number of segments in each floral whorl (See photo B above)
  • Unusual form Distinctive petal or sepal shapes, affecting the form of the flower in a unique way

Daylily color markings

  • Band A coloring that does not show on the sepals
  • Bicolor Petals are a different and darker color than the sepals
  • Bitone Petals are a darker shade than the sepals
  • Blend Petals and sepals are two or more colors
  • Diamond dusting The flower reflects light as if it is sparkling
  • Dotted/dusted The surface color is unevenly distributed over the background color
  • Edged/picoteed The edges of the flower segments are a different color
  • Eye A coloring that is on both the petals and the sepals, and is darker than the rest of the segments (See photo C above)
  • Eyezone Zone of color above the throat
  • Halo An eye that is very narrow or indistinct and shows on both the petals and sepals
  • Midrib The center vein that runs through each petal and sepal; it can be a different color
  • Polychrome Petals and sepals have intermingling of three or more colors
  • Self Petals and sepals are all the same color
  • Tipped The tips of the flower are a different color
  • Watermark An eye that is a lighter color than everything else on the segment (See photo D above)


How to grow daylilies

Regardless of what your garden’s story may be, the first chapter is about knowing how to grow a daylily well. Sure, they can be hands-off, but there are a few practices Nikki swears by.

1. Water

Well-drained soil will keep them from rotting, but consistently moist soil makes them bloom profusely. Make sure they get a couple of inches each week. This way they’re more likely to send up more scapes — the stalks that bear the blooms.

2. Fertilize

Nikki fertilizes with nitrogen-rich Milorganite®, made of reused microbes from wastewater. She applies one cup per clump in spring and again in fall by topdressing it as if adding salt and pepper to a baked potato — sprinkled over the top.

3. Remove spent blooms

Another way she keeps her garden gorgeous is by live-heading every evening. Daylily flowers only bloom for 24 hours or less, so live-heading is simply plucking off the flowers that bloomed for the day knowing they won’t be there tomorrow. As an extra perk, you get time to admire the nuances and fragrances up close.

how-to-plant-bareroot-daylilies-soaking: Most daylilies that are ordered will arrive in bareroot form like you see above left. To rehydrate the roots, you may need to soak before planting like you see on the right right.

What to expect when ordering daylilies

Most unique cultivars are available through mail-order services or online through independent growers. Begin looking to purchase in late winter so you can plant in spring. This will give the plants a whole season to settle into their new home.

When the daylily arrives it will often be bareroot, meaning the soil has been removed. The foliage may be trimmed back or nonexistent.

Bareroot daylily tip

Because the plant might have been out of the ground for a week or two, the roots will be dehydrated. Nikki soaks her plants for at least an hour and no more than a few days in water with a splash of liquid plant food. Make sure the water stays fresh if soaking for a couple days.

how-to-plant-bareroot-daylilies-in-soil: When planting bareroot daylilies, lay the roots over the top of the mound as if it’s a dress form and the roots are a dress.

How to plant bareroot daylilies

  1. In full sun, dig a hole as deep as the crown — the part where the roots meet the leaves — and mound soil in the middle.
  2. Lay the roots over the top of the mound as if it’s a dress form and the roots are a dress. The crown of the plant should be even with the top of the soil.
  3. Backfill with loose soil and amend with compost so it has good aeration and drainage.
  4. Water enough to keep the soil moist until new green growth emerges.

Discover a few of Nikki's favorite daylilies

Are you ready to fill your garden with the perfect perennial? Check out five of Nikki’s current favorites in the gallery below!

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Published: Dec. 17, 2019

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