At about 50,000 registered varieties, the daylily family might be the most prolific of all perennials. Not all of these daylilies are commercially available, and certainly no one grower offers such a broad selection. Nonetheless, paring down the choices can be daunting, especially when each named variety, or cultivar, looks drop-dead gorgeous.
One way to narrow the choices is to decide when you want them to flower. Daylilies are commonly identified as early, mid- or late-season bloomers. So if your garden needs a punch of colour once the bloom is off the roses, daylilies that blossom in early summer are the ones to select. If there's a lull before the phlox starts flowering, then midseason types might be your choice. And if the garden takes a nap at the end of summer, late-season daylilies can add some colour.
There are long-blooming cultivars that span all three flowering periods, making them valuable additions. "'Jersey Bounce' blooms on our farm from early July until frost – usually in October," says Julie Wilson of Nottawasaga Daylilies near Creemore, Ont.
Daylilies grow in different shapes and sizes. Some flower on short stems of between 30 and 45 centimetres high, such as the popular 'Stella de Oro.' The vast majority of cultivars have stems, or scapes, that rise from 50 to 75 centimetre tall, making them perfect for the middle of the border. A few grow as tall as a metre and a half. The bright-yellow 'Notify Ground Crew' and 'Autumn Minaret,' a mid- to late-season repeat bloomer with peach-flushed yellow petals, fall into this category, says Wilson.
They're pretty easy to grow, too. "They need at least four hours of sun a day to bloom well," she says, "and they prefer loose soil." When Wilson and her husband Tom started growing and selling daylilies in 1999, they baked in the crusty, hard clay on the farm. After adding sand and compost, the tilth of the heavy soil was greatly improved and the daylilies performed better.
"We don't fertilize, other than topdressing with compost every spring," says Wilson. Daylilies, she says, will grow in any good, loose garden soil.
Removing spent flowers, or deadheading, is a common practice for promoting a second flush of blooms in some perennials, but with daylilies, Wilson says, it's either strictly cosmetic or it's done to conserve energy by removing seed pods; deadheading won't prompt more flowering.
"Water is more important for repeat blooming than deadheading," says Julie Wilson of Nottawasaga Daylilies. "To prolong their bloom period, daylilies need about 2 1/2 centimetres of rain or moisture a week during the flowering season."