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The Daylily: A Guide for Gardeners

The Daylily: A Guide for Gardeners

by Ted L. Petit, John P. Peat

Few perennials are as tough and versatile as daylilies (genus Hemerocallis), and even fewer offer daylilies' enormous range of color, shape, and growing characteristics. The ease of hybridizing daylilies is a major attraction for the enthusiast. Any backyard gardener can hybridize daylilies, but this blessing of easy breeding can also be something of a curse


Few perennials are as tough and versatile as daylilies (genus Hemerocallis), and even fewer offer daylilies' enormous range of color, shape, and growing characteristics. The ease of hybridizing daylilies is a major attraction for the enthusiast. Any backyard gardener can hybridize daylilies, but this blessing of easy breeding can also be something of a curse to the newcomer. Tens of thousands of new daylilies are bred each year. How to choose and grow daylilies amidst this profusion? John Peat and Ted Petit have come to the rescue in this authoritative overview of all aspects of daylily history, cultivation, and breeding. Inspired by R. W. Munson Jr.'s classic treatment, Hemerocallis, they fully describe the history of the modern daylily. In the heart of the book, they detail the various types of hybrids and provide indispensable advice for growing all of them well. More than 200 beautiful color photographs and illustrations round out the work.

Editorial Reviews

Garden Compass - John Bagnasco
"A horticultural gem."—John Bagnasco, Garden Compass, April 2005
National Gardener - Joanne S. Carpender
"Another beautiful book by Peat and Petit."—Joanne S. Carpender, National Gardener, December 2004
Oregonian - Lynne Terry
"There's much to appreciate about this comprehensive guide."—Lynne Terry, Oregonian, October 28, 2004
From the Publisher
“Novice gardeners may find this volume useful.” —American Reference Books Annual

“Another beautiful book by Peat and Petit.” —National Gardener

“A horticultural gem.” —Garden Compass

“There’s much to appreciate about this comprehensive guide.” —Oregonian

“This is a great reference book for both novice and expert daylily growers. [This book] is a look at the best of the best. . . . have your pencil and shopping list at the ready!” —Garden Themes

The Daylily is authoritative overview of all aspects of daylily history, cultivation, and breeding.” —Floral and Nursery Times

“A well executed introduction to the development of the modern daylily, and a good beginner’s guide to cultivation.” —Herbertia

“This book is an excellent resource for getting to know the individuals and groups associated with award winning daylilies.” —E-Streams

“If you are attracted to these lovely flowers, this book will be an outstanding aide. From there you are on your own, if addiction sets in.” —Hobby Greenhouse

“If you need convincing about using daylilies in your garden, this book will do it . . . . this volume reinvigorated my fondness for daylilies and intrigued me as to how they may yet develop.” —Dig: The Magazine for Northwest Gardeners

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Timber Press, Incorporated
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7.94(w) x 9.52(h) x 0.74(d)

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Read an Excerpt

Tolerant of a wide variety of climate zones and soil conditions, the modern daylily is an ideal garden plant. Due to the invasive nature of many species daylilies, they were once mostly relegated to roadside plantings or out of the way locations — thus they earned nicknames such as ditch lilies or outhouse lilies. In comparison, the modern daylily is a well behaved garden perennial. Hybrid daylilies no longer spread underground stoloniferously but instead multiply at the crown, sending up new fans alongside existing ones. Or sometimes single fans split in two during bloom season. Such a desirable growth habit makes the modern daylily suitable for almost any type of garden.

The available multitude of sizes, colors, and shapes of daylilies will add to any planting,whether a new garden or an existing one. Although tolerant of shade, daylilies bloom better with more sun, especially the further north they are grown. Ideally they should be incorporated into gardens with at least four to six hours of direct sunlight. Less light will cause diminished bloom output and scapes will become gangly, leaning toward any available light.

The perennial border is a perfect location for daylilies. Many perennials bloom in the spring before the daylily season, and adding daylilies extends the flowering time for the whole planting. Varying the selection of daylilies can then extend the bloom time even further. Some gardeners choose one type of daylily — for instance a midseason, round, pink bloom, 22 in. (55.9 cm) high — but the great variety available makes easy work of forming a pleasing garden display. Generally, plant shorter daylilies at the front of the border and the tallest ones in the back. An occasional medium to a tall daylily, especially one with a small flower on a tall scape or an airy spider daylily, can be stunning close to the front edge.

Daylilies are excellent in cottage gardens, too, with their exuberance of brilliant colors. The rugged toughness of a good hybrid daylily ensures that it will continue to grow and thrive even as aggressive annuals and biennials self sow in the same area. Strong colors such as the coral-pink of 'Jeanne Fitton' (George Rasmussen, 1991) or the deep purple of 'Forbidden Desires' (Ted Petit, 1995) hold their own among the magentas and yellows that are prevalent in many cottage gardens. The bold spider forms such as the yellow 'Spider Miracle' (W. B. Hendricks, 1986) and the dusky purple 'Eggplant Escapade' (Margot Reed, 1996) will tame the wild abandonment of the cottage garden.

All daylilies may not be appropriate in a formal garden, but many selections would be stunning if given a bit of forethought. Formal gardens need good, clean foliage; strong, straight scapes; and reliable blooms. Many of the modern tetraploids would be ideal.

The collector's garden, of course, could be overflowing with modern daylilies. With thousands and thousands of named hybrids available, today's plant collector has a mind-boggling array of daylilies to choose from. To help narrow the choices,many collectors spotlight a specific type of daylily, such as tetraploids with strong eyes and edges; doubles; miniatures; or round, ruffled, pastel confections. Collections of daylilies by specific hybridizers, award winners such as Stout Medal winners, or heritage collections are all very popular. In these cases a collection could contain a wide variety of sizes, forms, and colors.

For the family garden modern daylilies can be a joy. They grow extremely well in an organic situation with no pesticides or chemical fertilizers. Children adore the names that spark their imagination, such as 'Spiderman' (Kenneth G. Durio, 1982), 'Piglet and Roo' (John Peat, 1998), 'Little Whipper Snapper' (Grace Stamile, 2002), or 'Wiggle Worm' (Bobby Baxter, 2002). Adults, too, will find names that tickle their fancy, such as 'Scorpion's Dance' (Geraldine L. Couturier, 1995), 'Dottie's Rompers' (Ra Hansen, 1996), 'Radiation Biohazard' (Jamie Gossard, 2000), or 'Twisted Sister' (Bob Schwarz, 1999).

Though rarely mentioned, the fact that every part of the daylily is edible and not poisonous to humans — provided no pesticides or chemicals have been used — is another draw to the family garden. Since a new daylily bloom will open each day, it does no harm to pluck today's flower and make it a part of a meal. Tell a child that they can have a scoop of ice cream in their choice of daylily bloom and they will spend half an hour in the garden selecting the bloom that holds the largest scoop. An elegant addition to any garden party would be daylily blooms stuffed with chicken, tuna fish, or seafood salad, all served on a bed of lettuce.

Hobbyist gardeners, who enjoy many facets of gardening including growing plants from seed, would find hybridizing daylilies and harvesting their seed extremely easy and rewarding. Hybridizing is explained in more detail in Chapter 9, but I encourage hobbyist gardeners to try it.

Old-fashioned gardens that usually feature the full blooms of roses, peonies, and irises appreciate the full formed blooms of double daylilies. They come in small, "popcorn" sizes, large, "softball" sizes, and everything in between. The creamy pastels can be used to echo the earlier show put on by roses, azaleas, and peonies.

Low-maintenance or weekend gardeners would do well to add daylilies to their landscapes. Avid daylily collectors are quick to point out the many hours they spend grooming their plants, but in truth the modern daylily grows quite well even if neglected. Daylilies will thrive in sandy soils and tolerate hard clay conditions. Planted along a pond or stream, they will live through floods that cover their crowns for long periods of time. Similarly, a well established clump of daylilies will also survive a long period of drought, although bloom size and bud count will be diminished. Dayliles do appreciate a simple regime of incorporating compost or well rotted manure once in the spring and again after bloom is finished. Gardeners who do not have these products available can also use slow-release fertilizers. Even leftover lawn fertilizer will do. If rain fall has been low, a deep watering of an inch or more twice a week will keep daylilies thriving.

When choosing a location for a new daylily garden, one must take into account several factors. As I mentioned, daylilies require four to six hours or more of direct sunlight in USDA Zone 5a or warmer. Regions further north and in colder climatic zones should strive for locations with full-day sun. The proximity to water, either from underground sprinklers or hose connections, is important to avoid having to lug large amounts of water to new plants. Also consider that daylily blooms face the sun as they open. Gardens planted along the sides of man-made structures such as houses, garages, sheds, or barns work well because the blooms are sure to face outward toward viewers. Stockade fences or evergreen hedges work the same way. The blooms of daylilies planted in beds out in an open field, yard, or lawn will generally face southeast, south, or southwest. In this situation, remember to place markers recording the names of the daylilies on the southern side of the plants. Markers placed north of a daylily clump will cause visitors to forever circle a bed, first looking at the bloom and then searching for the name.

Peak daylily bloom time in northern portions of the United States and throughout Canada tends to be during the summer months. Due to rebloom, even southern locations experience bloom in the summertime. This timing makes daylilies ideal to add around swimming pools, decks, patios, and playgrounds. With their rugged nature, even if a ball lands in the middle of a clump or a wagging dog tail snaps off the top of a bloom scape, the daylilies will continue to grow and flourish. They will survive and even thrive when planted in large planters or containers.

Modern daylily cultivars that reliably rebloom are best for gardens in warmer zones and southern locales. These daylilies can offer months of beauty. Gardeners in cooler temperature zones,however, should not count on rebloom. Depending on the weather, a cool wet spring or an early frost, rebloom can be very sporadic. Northern gardens benefit more from cultivars with high bud count, but also consider how well a bloom opens under cool nights. A high bud count would be of little advantage if the blooms themselves struggle to open.

Visiting daylily gardens in your climate zone is an excellent way to locate those selections that thrive in local growing conditions. The American Hemerocallis Society (AHS) has hundreds of daylily display gardens throughout North America. A quick visit to the Internet at www.daylilies.org will show a listing of gardens in the various regions of the AHS. Just a short phone call is usually enough to schedule a tour.

After several years of growing daylilies, gardeners will find themselves with a delightful dilemma. Individual daylily clumps will need to be divided after three to five years in warmer zones and five to seven years in colder locations. Signs that a daylily is in need of division include crowded foliage and fewer bloom scapes. This is also the ideal time to refurbish the soil before replanting a smaller division of the daylily. If the clump yields a large number of divisions, replant them in an attractive arrangement of three pieces containing three to five fans each. Dig one large hole, add the soil amendment of choice, and then arrange the three pieces in a triangle, leaving 12–15 in. (30.5–38 cm) between each piece. This arrangement makes it easy in the future to lift one of these pieces while keeping an established plant in the ground.

Gardeners with large tracts of land might gladly plant any excess divisions in new locations on their property. Urban and suburban home owners, though, with smaller pieces of land, will soon find themselves with more daylilies than garden space. Luckily these easy-to-grow plants are excellent for sharing with other gardeners. Daylilies donated to gardens planted at churches, firehouses, schools, and town plantings are always highly appreciated.

Meet the Author

John P. Peat of Toronto, Ontario, is a research technician in biology, daylily hybridizer, and nurseryman. He is the owner of Cross Border Daylilies. He is a member of the American Hemerocallis Society and co-author of The Color Encyclopedia of Daylilies.

Ted L. Petit, professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Toronto, breeds daylilies at his Florida garden, Le Petit Jardin. He is a member of the American Hemerocallis Society and co-author of The Color Encyclopedia of Daylilies.

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