The daylily really is the perfect perennial—easy to grow, virtually disease- and pest-free, and able to survive drought, shade, and poor soil.
Originally from Asia, these plants have adapted so well that many of us think of them as natives. Imagine the excitement of a 16th century explorer cruising the Orient and finding these gorgeous plants! European gardeners welcomed daylilies into their gardens and when early colonists sailed for the New World, daylilies made the crossing with them.
Daylilies have a long history in both the garden and the kitchen. The tender foliage was eaten as a spring green, the buds and flowers were eaten raw and in soups, and the swollen portions of the root were boiled and eaten. All parts have a mild peppery taste and act as a thickening agent when cooked in stews, soups, or sauces.
Their botanical name Hemerocallis means “beauty for a day” because each blossom lasts for only one day. Unlike true lilies which grow from bulbs, daylilies grow from fleshy roots and the flowers form on leafless scapes which rise above the foliage. Each scape has 12-15 buds on it, one opening every other day. A mature plant can have 4 to 6 scapes, giving a long bloom period. Plant heights refer to the length of the scape and some can reach six feet tall!
To propagate them, divide the daylily clumps in early spring (February through April) or in the late summer to fall after flowering (late July through mid-September). Often, the Autumnal Equinox is considered the last possible day for dividing. The plants need at least six weeks to get re-established before winter.
Though many gardening books recommend cutting or prying the roots apart using two garden forks, I have had good success by briefly soaking the roots in a bucket of water until most of the soil is gone. Then it is much easier to pull the clumps apart (and you do not damage the plant). Dig up the entire clump. After the soil is removed, see where the crown is located. Starting from the outer edge, break it into larger clumps (two, three, or no more than four). Cut the leaves back to approximately one third to one half their length. Replant. You can add a high phosphorus fertilizer if you wish to speed up growth.
Though they will survive in less than ideal conditions, daylilies will perform best if given full sun and a spot with well-drained, fertile soil. The crown of the plant (where roots and leaves meet) should be buried one inch deep. Keep a newly planted daylily watered and mulch it to keep it moist. The red lily-leaf beetle, which has decimated the Asiatic and Oriental lilies, shows no interest in daylilies.
There are thousands of beautiful daylilies to choose from. Combine early, mid-season, late blossoming varieties, and repeat bloomers to have daylilies in flower from late spring into fall.
Did you know: Daylilies are not “true” lilies (from the genus Lilium), despite their name. If interested, see our Lilies page to learn how to grow Asiatic and Oriental lilies.