Daylilies provide brief but resplendent blooms

Daylilies have long been a favorite choice of gardeners for their versatility and ruggedness. Thousands of cultivars are available, and the plant can adapt to a wide range of growing conditions.

The plant's name reflects the brief lifespan of the flowers it produces. The American Daylily Society says the flowers produced by a daylily will only be present for a single day, opening at dawn and withering away at dusk from dawn to dusk. However, a flower stalk will produce multiple buds on one plant, thus extending the blooming season, and many cultivars have more than one blooming period.

Daylilies will grow from one to four feet high and come in a variety of colors. The University of Minnesota Extension says the perennial flowers are a good way to provide a backdrop to other plants or create a dense mass to cover and stabilize a slope.

Spring planting is often preferred for daylilies, since the plant may not be able to establish a reliable root system before the winter arrives if it is planted in the autumn. However, the American Daylily Society says it's still possible to establish daylilies later in the season as long as the cultivar is sufficiently hardy and you include some protective measures such as a layer of mulch.

Most daylilies will prefer areas with full sun, or at least six hours of sunlight per day. However, some will be tolerant of partial shade or afternoon shade.

Daylilies grow best in loamy, well-drained soil. The University of Minnesota Extension says it also helps to have acidic soil. Avoid planting daylilies near trees and shrubs, since they will not compete well for available nutrients.

When planting daylilies, you should dig a hole capable of supporting the root system. White Flower Farm, a Litchfield nursery, says the roots should be spread out and the crown placed about an inch below the surface of the soil. The University of Vermont Extension recommends spacing daylilies about 18 to 24 inches apart.

Newly transplanted daylilies should be watered deeply to help them become established. The University of Minnesota Extension says that while the plants are drought-tolerant, they will grow best if they receive about an inch of water each week to keep the soil moist.

Organic material such as compost or manure can help encourage vibrant blooms. White Flower Farm says daylilies can also benefit from a light application of fertilizer when they are being established, but that mixes with a high nitrogen content should be avoided.

Once they are established, daylilies require fairly minimal maintenance. The University of Vermont Extension says dead foliage should be cut back in the spring, or when it first starts to turn brown in  late summer or autumn.

You may have to wait about two to four years after planting for the most vibrant flowering to occur. The University of Minnesota Extension says it helps to deadhead the plants, or remove flowers once they start to wilt away. Doing so will keep the garden looking clean and prevent seed production, which can limit future blooms.

Daylilies should be divided and transplanted every three to five years. White Flower Farm said this task can be done whenever the soil can be dug up to relocate the plants.

Few pests will affect the plant. Thrips, aphids, and spider mites may feast on the foliage or flowers, but they can be deterred with insecticidal soap or washed off with a blast of water from a hose.

The American Daylily Society says daylily rust is the most serious disease that can affect the plant. This problem can be addressed by providing sufficient air circulation, avoiding excessive amount of nitrogen, providing sufficient potassium, and using a fungicide to fight the fugus that causes the disease. The plant can also be affected by root rot or another fungal disease called leaf streak.

Another issue is spring sickness, defined by stunted or discolored foliage fans in the early spring. The University of Vermont Extension says this condition may be caused by cold damage as the leaves start to appear in the spring, and that the plant will usually recover on its own.

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