by Jerry Parsons, Ph.D.
Horticulture Specialist, Texas Agricultural Extension Service
in San Antonio
Texans are discovering the beauty of perennials.
Bursting back onto the scene with particular zest are daylilies,
a diverse group of perennial flowers unsurpassed for versatility
in the home landscape.
Anyone who associates the daylily exclusively
with orange or yellow star-shaped blooms might wonder what
all the excitement is about. The news is that this old-fashioned
flower has a contemporary new look. Blossoms now come in pink,
purple, red, peach, apricot and all shades in between, including
dramatic color combinations. Petals may be ruffled, twirled
or flecked with eye-catching glitter called "diamond
dust." And there are lots of new sizes and shapes, ranging
from giant spidery blooms a full 12 inches wide to biscuit-shaped
miniatures barely 2 inches across.
Daylily plants may rise to a height of 4 feet
or remain as short as 12 inches. The taller varieties make
wonderful additions to traditional perennial borders, while
low-growing types perform beautifully as ground covers. Daylilies
can also be planted in naturalistic drifts in lawns, where
they will multiply and spread like wildflowers.
The scientific name for daylily is Hemerocallis,
meaning "beauty for a day." Although individual
blooms are short-lived, opening and fading the very same day,
individual plants continue to blossom for weeks. Flower stalks
of modern cultivars carry an average of 20 to 30 buds. On
a given day anywhere from 1 to 6 buds may unfurl. As one flower
stalk becomes depleted, another takes its place either immediately
or a few weeks later. With the advent of early, mid-season
and late-blooming varieties, gardeners now can have continuous
color from spring into autumn.
Daylilies flourish with little care in almost
every part of the country. The old rule of thumb was that
evergreen varieties do best in the South and dormant varieties
do best in the North. But nowadays the vast majority of modern
evergreens and dormants do well everywhere. Evergreen daylilies
retain their foliage throughout the year, while the tops of
dormant varieties die to the ground each autumn.
The tuber-like roots can be planted in spring
or fall, preferably in spots receiving at least 6 hours of
direct sunlight daily. Daylilies are not finicky about soil,
although a well-drained loam is best. If soil is heavy, mix
in some peat moss or compost at planting time. While it is
best to plant the roots immediately upon arrival, they can
be stored out of sun in a cool dry area or in damp sand for
a week or 2. They should not be left in standing water for
a period in excess of several hours.
Daylilies should not be planted too deep! Instead
of digging a hole, loosen the soil to a depth of 1 foot and
then fashion a cone barely below ground level. After spreading
the roots over the cone, cover them with about 1-1/2 inches
of soil and water thoroughly.
Spacing varies according to use in the landscape.
Whenever doing any mass planting, say with 25 or more daylilies
per bed, space the roots 12 to 15 inches apart. But if you
want a colorful garden accent, plant in groups of 3 or 5,
leaving just 6 inches between individuals. Don't fertilize
newly planted daylilies for at least 4 to 6 weeks. Established
plants should be fed with a low-nitrogen fertilizer (use half
the amount recommended on the label) and only in the early
spring and again in fall, when temperatures are cool.
New plantings should be kept moist for the first
month. Although established daylilies are drought-resistant,
they perform best if watered whenever soil becomes dry. Beyond
this, little ongoing care is required. Every 3 to 5 years,
daylilies become root bound and should be divided. Simply
dig up any overgrown clumps in spring or fall, shake off the
loose dirt and then separate each clump by hand or with a
knife into a few individual plants. The divisions can be replanted
or given away to friends. The roots are extremely hardy and
do not have to be dug and stored for winter, even in the coldest
THE HARDY DAYLILY MAKES NICE BORDER
Many colors of daylilies are available except
white and blue. The original plants from Asia had only yellow
and orange blooms. During recent years, plant breeders have
used a red-flowered species from China to develop pink, red
and dark purple varieties.
The daylily may be the answer if you are looking
for a hardy perennial for your flower border. These plants
will survive almost any abuse and still bloom. You will also
have very little trouble with disease or insect pests. They
produce an abundant display of flowers and the coarse, grass-like
foliage retains its attractive green color during the entire
Daylilies love sun but will grow and bloom in
partial shade if they receive 6 hours of sun each day. This
vigorous plant can also compete with the roots of trees and
still make satisfactory growth.
The earliest flowering daylilies bloom in April
with the iris. A careful selection of varieties will provide
continuous blooming through August and early September. Some
varieties will produce flowers in the spring and a second
crop later in the summer. Be sure to remove spent flowers
to prevent seed formation. This will prolong the flowering
season and will prevent seedlings.
As with many of our garden flowers, we now have
dwarf daylilies. Compared to standard varieties with flowers
about 3 feet tall, the dwarf types are about 18 inches high.
They are useful in the border in front of taller plants, as
a ground cover on a bank, or for naturalizing where the standard
varieties would be too large.
Daylilies produce an abundance of blooms which
provide beauty in the landscape. They may be used as cut flowers
but each bloom lasts for only one day. Other buds in the cluster
will open on succeeding days if the flowers are used in a
The culture of daylilies is relatively simple.
They will grow for many years with a minimum of care. If each
plant is to become a large, separate specimen, clump space
them about three feet apart. If a solid mass planting is desired
for a border, or as a ground cover, place them about one foot
Daylilies are propagated by dividing the large
clumps into small sections. The best time to divide clumps
or establish a planting is in the fall a few weeks before
the first frost. They may also be divided and set in the spring
about a month before the average date of the last frost. However,
this tough plant may be dug up and reset almost anytime. Daylilies
should not be planted too deep! Instead of digging a hole,
loosen the soil to a depth of 1 foot and then fashion a cone
barely below ground level. After spreading the roots over
the cone, cover them with about 1-1/2 inches of soil and water
thoroughly. Daylilies require only moderate amounts of fertilizer,
and their heavy growth of leaves serves as a mulch once they
are well established.
Local daylily experts have compiled a list of
the some of the best varieties for this area. For an updated
list of recommended varieties, check the Website at:
NOW is the time to plant one of the easiest
to grow perennials. Don't miss the beauty of this spectacular
The Intimate Garden With Daylilies
Col. Michael M. Conrad
When I retired from the United States Air Force
I was 55 years old. With the help
of many members of the San Antonio Daylily Society I started
growing daylilies. Being young and sprightly I built large
beds of various designs, with pathways, statues, and sundials.
These were very pretty but as I aged, these big beds became
difficult to work and still are. Thank goodness, I am fortunate
enough to have some help. After I joined the turned 65, all
new daylily beds built were no wider than six feet. The beds
are of various lengths, some curved, and all raised a foot
above ground level. I could sit anywhere along the length
of these skinny beds, either side and reach in three feet
to do whatever needed to be done. This arrangement worked
well for me until I became an octogenarian. Infirmities crept
up on me as they seem to do to most of us that live long enough.
What gardening I did do was supervisory and not very gratifying.
The devastating drought of 2000 hit south Texas.
A dome of high pressure hung over us day after day and the
temperature rose as high as 111 degrees. The Edward's Aquifer
shrank rapidly. This is the only source of potable water for
San Antonio and surrounding area. Many watering restrictions
were imposed by the various agencies and authorities. The
price of water went up which was also a deterrent. My August
water bill was $1300 dollars and that was comparatively low.
It was obvious that large St. Augustine lawns were no
longer tenable. Large scale gardens, even with built in drip
systems, were about to be a thing of the past. Faced with
these dismal facts and knowing that the situation would only
worsen as San Antonio continues to grow, I started looking
for alternative ways to satisfy my gardening addiction.
Y2K, remember Y2K? This was an exercise in preparedness
which is something that we should think about more than we
do. "Be prepared" is the Boy Scouts' solemn creed.
I had some barrels in which we stored Y2K water. Since these
were excess to our immediate need, we sawed these plastic
55 gallon syrup barrels in half, drilled drainage holes in
the bottoms, connected all half barrels to one water source
with a check valve and PVC pipe, filled them with dirt, and
planted 200 daylilies. The plant containers (barrels) were
randomly placed in an oval drive way island roughly 50 X 100
Each plant container with drainage holes drilled
in the bottom also had a ½ inch hole drilled next to
the container inside wall for a vertically installed water
supply pipe. Using tees, elbows clamps, hose and flow hose
each container was outfitted with it's own watering system.
Each container was then attached to a continuous buried loop
½ inch water supply PVC pipe which intern is supplied
with water from a single standpipe with check valve and a
pressure gage. I want to talk just a bit about the check valve.
Texas law mandates that any time you hook up to a potable
water source a check valve must be installed. There are times
when it is possible for, in this case, water to siphon from
the plant container in to the water supply system and end
up in your iced tea. It is a delight to operate the watering
requirements of the containers. As we are primarily caring
for daylilies all containers are watered at the same rate.
This could be modified using resistors so some get more water
than others. The water is turned on at low pressure, 10 pound
per square inch PSI and turned off when the water requirements
have been met. A water wand takes the guess work out of when
to water and should always be used.
One item that we were concerned with was internal
temperature of the barrel soil. On the day, in San Antonio,
that it was 111 degrees the barrel temperature at daylily
root depth was 92 - within normal limits, at least for this
part of the world.
Each container was filled with ROSE MIX from
Gardenville. First we placed some locally available rocks
in the bottom of the containers to reduce the amount of soil
needed to fill the containers. The rose mix is wonderful.
Sand, some clay, compost and finally ground cedar (juniper)
it stays soft and pliable and easy to plant, by hand. Martha
Montgomery, a charter member of the San Antonio Daylily Society
would call it "sugar and cream dirt". So far this
mix is holding moisture well, with out being soggy. Many of
the daylily growers discard their soil in seedling beds annually.
This would be easy to do with the barrels. The best part is
that the some eighty plants planted in late August are all
surviving with no crown rot or any other problems and this
with the fact that they were shipped during the hottest time
in our history, and looked it on arrival.
On a personnel note, those of you familiar with
our garden may remember that our original layout included
circular plots the were some 25 feet in diameter. As time
went by and I got older the newer beds were designed to be
no more than 6 feet wide. This allowed me to sit on the edge
and reach in 3 feet on the side for weeding, grooming etc.
Now I have difficulty walking and this is certainly true on
uneven ground. Walla! I drive my trusty scooter up to any
one of my new forty nine gardens and have a ball.
It is now a year later, this spring we had rain
and clouds, for seven weeks, as a result the peak bloom period
was also late and not as gratifying as in past years, except
those growing in the barrels. They bloomed, re-bloomed, set
record numbers of buds and all in all were a delight.
am nearly 84 years old and I have all sorts of maladies that
seem to accompany aging. It certainly is true that youth is
wasted on the young. One of my problems is not being able
to walk very well. I ride a scooter in and out of the house.
I ride this thing everywhere - in the grocery store, doctor's
office, or it occurred to me the other day, to my barrel garden's.
I scooter out among my barrels and never have I been more
intimate with my plants. It is a totally new experience and
one that I believe more handicapped people might consider.
Years ago my wife and I were visiting the Melon
Art Gallery in Washington. As we went from one exhibit to
another we noticed an attractive young woman in a wheel chair
looking at the various exhibits. As we were leaving the museum
this young woman rolled up to the front desk, stood up, and
said to the attendant "thank you very much" and
walked out. We commented at the time, "What a way to
study paintings." Well, what a way to garden! I can hardly
wait to get out among and between my barrels every day, rain
I started out with this barrel project to save
water and money. Enough so that I could continue to grow a
thousand or so cultivars. As the first two hundred daylilies,
planted in the barrels, began to flourish and bloom this last
April - June the project became more than a water conservation
exercise. I recognized the value this garden concept could
be for the handicapped. It is exciting to know that for not
much money, twenty five dollars or less, anyone in a wheel
chair or a scooter could have a garden. A two barrel kitchen
or flower garden and also to know that this concept could
be expanded. Ours is under construction for a programmed total
of two hundred barrels.
Then a few weeks ago, as I was scooting about
the garden, it hit me, this concept of gardening should and
could be for any gardener, particularly a new daylily gardener.
There are many thesis on container gardening but I have not
seen any that takes advantage of the plastic barrel available
anyplace Coca-Cola or other soft drink syrup is shipped and
our application as outlined herein. I have experienced an
intimacy with my plants that I have never had before. This
relationship began with close observation and inspection of
each plant, ever day then, I realized I was more than inspection,
it was the pure pleasure of visiting and knowing old friends
on such an intimate basis.
I was stationed in Washington DC some years ago with out my
loved ones and no pets. A dreary time. I got a sweet potato
growing in a vase of water and gravel I talked Sweet Sweet
potato every day the only trouble was the darn plant talked
back and never shut up. I think this new intimacy better.
So! There you have it. The philosophy of the
intimate garden using daylilies.
And then time went bye. The balmy days of December
2001, January & February 2002. The daylilies loved this
weather particularly the evergreens and obligingly put on
luxurious new growth. Until the last days in Feb. and whamo,
the temperature drooped to 17 degrees F. on the 28th and stayed
below freezing for 10 hours. Each of the barrels is supplied
with a built in irritations system piped in from a single
source of water. I ran this system all night and subsequent
nights that it froze. The barrel plants suffered some freeze
back but not nearly so much as the daylilies in the our conventional
gardens. 14 March 2002