Daylilies are fantastic ornamental plants which are grown all over the world for their beauty and ease of care. They are also used in bouquets and weddings, as daylilies are a fantastic cut flower.
For many reasons, they are a favorite of gardeners and breeders alike, often referred to as the perfect perennial, as they come in many shapes and colors, and can adapt to different conditions with ease.
At A Glance: Daylily Facts
There are antique Chinese paintings which depict daylilies which look nearly identical to some of those found today.
While they’ve been grown for thousands of years, it wasn’t until 1753 that they got their botanical name.
Daylilies were first introduced into North America by the early European immigrants, who packed the roots with them for the end of the journey. The daylily had naturalized across the country by the early 1800s.
Most modern cultivars descend from two different daylilies. The first is the yellow lemon lily, known as Hemerocallis flava, and the second is the orange and red lily, Hemerocallis fulva.
Where Daylilies Come From, and the Meaning Behind the Name
Hailing from Asia, the daylily is a striking plant which flowers year after year, and while the common name calls it a lily, it’s not part of the Liliaceae family.
Daylilies form part of the Asphodelaceae plant family, coming under the Hemerocallis genus.
The genus name is derived from the Greek words hemera and kalos, literally meaning “day beautiful”, or “beautiful for a day”, referring to how short-lived some daylily flowers can be. Some, however, last much longer than this.
Originally, daylilies only came in hues of orange, yellow, or a reddish-yellow. Nowadays, they can be found in a real kaleidoscope of color, as they’ve been hybridized since the 1930s.
This is one of the easiest flowering perennial plants you can have in your garden. They do well in borders, beds, and containers, adding a wealth of color to any outside space.
There are also smaller forms of daylily, if you have limited space, or you only grow flowers in containers, or you simply prefer a more petite flower.
These smaller varieties can also be used as a ground cover, filling in those bare spaces, and once established, these plants can also help stop soil erosion.
How to Recognize a Daylily
While the flower is easily recognizable, the plant itself can be a bit more tricky to identify.
The daylily produces leafless flower stalks called scapes, which grow from the crown of the plant, and grow taller than the foliage.
Daylily scapes can be anywhere from 1 to 5 feet tall, depending on the variety. The more modern cultivars can produce anywhere from 15 flowers per scape.
While the flowers of a daylily don’t last as long as other perennials, the plant produces continuous flowers for a 3 to 4 week window. Newer cultivars have been bred to bloom for a longer period, usually more than 10 weeks!
The majority of daylilies will flower from early summer to the middle of summer, though there are earlier blooming cultivars, which flower from spring into summer.
Some will even flower from late summer into the first frosts.
Daylilies come in all sorts of colors and shapes. It’s easier to say what colors don’t appear, and that’s pure white and a true blue, which don’t yet exist naturally in the daylily.
As to the shape, there are several forms, dictated by the variety of the daylily. These include:
- Circular daylily – the flowers are full, and have a rounded shape
- Triangular daylily – when you look at the front of the flower, the segments form a triangle
- Star-shaped daylily – these flowers come in either a three-pointed or a six-pointed star
- Ruffled daylily – the flowers are ruffled along the edges of each petal
- Spider daylily – these flowers are much narrower, usually curling at the tips of the petal
- Recurved daylily – these flowers curve at the edges, nearly tucking under
- Trumpet daylily – the flowers are trumpet-shaped, and can readily be confused with a true lily
- Double daylily – these flowers have more than six segments per bloom
Daylilies can also be distinguished in the sizes they come in:
- Miniature daylilies produce blooms which measure less than 3 inches across
- Small daylilies produce flowers which range from 3 to 4.5 inches wide
- Large daylilies measure at least 4 inches in diameter, though they are often bigger
There’s a daylily for absolutely every garden, and you can even get varieties that have different foliage.
Most cultivars feature dormant foliage, which dies back to the crown once it gets to autumn.
There are also daylilies which have evergreen foliage, keeping their leaves all year round, ensuring you don’t have to fill any gaps when winter arrives.
You can also get semi-evergreen daylilies, which are a mixture between the two. The climate determines how these cultivars will behave, and will remain evergreen if they are in a warmer climate, and will drop their foliage if it gets too cold.
You can recognize the leaves of a daylily as they appear very grass-like, featuring long narrow leaves which can grow anywhere from 1 to 2 feet long.
On the underside of each leaf, you’ll notice a central rib.
The leaves of a daylily grow opposite each other from the crown of the plant.
How to Tell a Lily and a Daylily Apart
It’s very easy to confuse a daylily and a lily, not just because of their common names, but because they can resemble each other.
But put the plants side by side, and you’ll soon notice the difference. Daylilies produce much shorter flower stems than lilies, and while these scapes grow from the middle of a cluster of leaves, they don’t have leaves themselves.
Lily stems are usually much longer than that of a daylily, and the leaves travel up the entire flower stem.
You can also notice the difference between a daylily and a true lily by looking at the flowers. Lilies always have six petals per flower, and daylilies have two layers of three petals per flower.
In a daylily, the top layer has three true petals, while the bottom layer has three sepals which look like petals.
You can also tell the difference in how long the flowers last for. Individual lily blooms can last for weeks at a time, while daylily flowers will usually only last a day each.
Daylily Varieties You Should Try in Your Own Garden
With the daylily coming in so many forms, sizes, and colors, there’s truly a variety for every space.
Many people know it as the ‘perfect perennial’, as it is so easy to care for and there’s nearly countless options for you to choose from.
Below is a list of some of the very best daylilies you can grow in your own garden.
‘Stoke Poges’ Daylily
An unusually light pink daylily, ‘Stoke Poges’ is a wonderful option to brighten up any garden. Each flower features an apricot throat, and a white midrib across each inner petal. The outer petals are a paler version.
‘Stoke Poges’ drops its leaves during winter. The flowers can reach 5 inches in diameter, and the plant itself gets to a height of 28 inches.
‘Crimson Pirate’ Daylily
As interesting as its name is, the ‘Crimson Pirate’ daylily is a firm favorite across the world. The flowers come in a striking crimson, with a lighter midrib, and the throat of each bloom is a lovely ray of yellow.
Each flower can grow to a maximum of 4 inches in diameter, and how long the flowers last depends on the climate.
Some will last a couple of days, some will last a day, but the plant blooms from mid-season, and re-blooms prolifically.
‘Marion Vaughn’ Daylily
‘Marion Vaughn’ is a bright lemon-yellow daylily, which has a beautifully powerful fragrance. Each bloom has a tinge of green to the petals, adding interest and bright color to anywhere you choose to plant it.
This daylily will open from mid-July, and it will spread fairly well, filling any gaps in the proximity.
The leaves of ‘Marion Vaughn’ are evergreen, and the plant itself can reach an impressive meter high. The blooms themselves can reach 10cm wide, making this a fantastic option for any garden.
‘Pink Damask’ Daylily
One of the most common pink daylilies, ‘Pink Damask’ is a lovely variety which features coral blooms, reaching 15cm across. These gorgeous flowers also have blue anthers, making for a striking contrast.
While this is a much paler pink than other cultivars, these have an especially long flowering season, from mid-July onwards. Each bloom has a yellow throat, which contrasts well against the pink and blue.
‘Pink Damask’ is a deciduous daylily, and can grow up to a meter in height.
‘Burning Daylight’ Daylily
If you’d prefer a brighter daylily, you can’t get much brighter than ‘Burning Daylight’. This lovely cultivar features striking, bright orange flowers, which often develop flushes of red.
The flowers are large, with ruffled edges, usually spanning 12cm across.
It’s also a more compact, clump-forming variety, the stems reaching about 70cm tall.
‘Catherine Woodbury’ Daylily
If you’re after a much cooler color, ‘Catherine Woodbury’ is a good choice. The blooms themselves are very fragrant, and the trumpet-shaped flowers come in a lavender with a hint of pink.
This variety does get slightly taller at 75cm, and each flower features a green throat. The flowers themselves reach a diameter of 15cm across, making for a striking focal point in any garden.
If you’d prefer a daylily which has a fantastic smell, ‘Whichford’ is a great option. Each bloom comes in a captivating weak yellow, almost white, which makes it a great choice for any color scheme.
The flowers have green throats, and this is a taller variety, reaching about 1.2 meters when it is mature. It’s also a deciduous variety, allowing you to plant other flowers and adding interest in different seasons.
How to Care for Daylilies
While daylilies are very easy plants to care for, that doesn’t mean you should just plant them and leave them. There are a few things to keep in mind in order to get the best out of your daylilies.
How to Plant Daylilies
As daylilies have a clump-forming habit, you need to plant them with at least 18 inches in between plants, and a maximum of 24 inches space between each one.
You’ll need to place the crown of each plant – the top of the plant – around 1 to 2 inches below the surface of the soil. Any deeper, and the daylilies might not flower at all.
You can also use the cone method, which is a tried and tested way of planting daylilies. You’ll need to dig a hole and then place a cone-shaped pile of loose soil, which will hold the roots of the plant.
Place the roots over the cone, and cover with soil, and water it in well.
Most daylilies require at least 6 hours of sunlight, but some will fade under direct sun. It largely depends on the cultivar as to its light requirements.
The roots are fleshy, so they need soil that drains well, otherwise they will rot. The soil needs to be moist, and you may have to water them additionally if rain is sporadic.
It’s always best to water at the base of the plant, otherwise you could damage the blooms and allow disease to take hold.
Watering is best in the early morning, as it’s too early for the sun to scorch the plant, but it will eventually burn off any excess moisture, largely stopping risks of disease.
Keeping Your Daylilies Healthy
Daylilies are wonderful perennials because you don’t really need to care for them much. If you want to keep them looking at their best, remove any dead or diseased leaves in winter.
It’s also a good idea to deadhead any spent flower heads. If you prefer, you can cut the flower stalks back, close to the ground, once the flowering season has finished.
Like most clump-forming plants, you’ll need to divide daylilies in order to keep the growth vigorous, and to keep as much energy going into the flower production as possible.
While daylilies multiply readily in clumps, you’ll need to divide your hoard of daylilies to keep them strong.
You’ll know when you need to do this, as they will be too-tightly packed, and the flowering capability of your daylilies will rapidly diminish, producing fewer flowers which are much smaller than normal.
This tends to happen after 3 to 5 years after planting, so you won’t need to do this too often. The best time to divide your daylilies is in early spring, the later part of summer, or the very early part of autumn.
To divide your plants, wait until after the flowering period, and first cut the leaves. Take them back to around 6 or 8 inches tall to make it easier to divide the roots.
Dig up the lot of daylilies, and use a spade or a fork (or both in opposite directions) to separate the group, making sure that each portion has at least four fans.
This will ensure the plants will still grow well, and replant at the same depth, and water them in well.
Daylily Pests and Diseases
While daylilies are very resilient plants, they are not, unfortunately, immune to everything.
There are several pests and diseases which can be detrimental to the plants, and it’s worth knowing the signs in order to stop them from decimating your daylilies.
Daylily streak and daylily rust are the most common diseases that affect daylilies. Daylily streak tends to appear in wet, cold conditions, caused by a fungus called Aureobasidium microseptum.
Signs of daylily streak include, well, yellow streaks which appear on the central vein of the leaves, often at the tip, stretching down. The yellow will darken, and it can make leaves wither and die completely.
Daylily rust is caused by a fungus named Puccinia hemerocallidis. While this fungus also makes streaks appear on the leaves, it also develops pustules on the underside of the leaves.
These start off as orange spots, and eventually release dusty spores to spread.
When it comes to pests, thrips and mites are the biggest villains. Thrips affect the tender branches and the buds of the flowers. Mites suck out the juice from the leaves, and weaken the plant.
If you see either, you’ll need to take steps with pesticides in order to control them, before they get out of hand.
You may also see slugs and aphids attack your daylilies, and these can be dealt with fairly easily by companion planting.
How Toxic is the Daylily?
While daylilies are not toxic to humans or dogs, they can cause a lot of suffering or even death in cats. There’s no part of the plant which isn’t toxic to cats.
The signs of a cat being unwell due to ingesting part of the plant includes vomiting, loss of appetite, drooling, and even kidney failure.
Daylilies can form part of the cornerstone of any planting scheme. They add a whole wealth of color and interest into any space, and the options are practically endless when it comes to form and color.
They are especially beautiful when paired with other flowers, playing off the beauty of both.
Even if you only have a balcony, you can grow daylilies, as the miniature varieties do well in pots. They will provide a lovely display year after year, and you’ll hardly need to lift a finger.