Daylily — The Easiest Perennial

June 15, 2014 | By | Comments (11)

Wild orange daylilies aka “ditch lilies.” Photo: Steve Bender

When asked to suggest just one perennial for a beginning gardener to start with, my answer is always the same — daylily. No other perennial is easier to grow and comes in so many different colors, patterns, forms, and sizes. June is prime daylily time.

The big reason we have so many daylilies is that no perennial I know of is as easy to hybridize to make a new one. Any beginner can do it. All you have to do is:

1. Pinch out a yellow-tipped stamen from one flower and rub its yellow pollen onto the end of the long, cream-colored pistil in the center of another flower.

2. After the flower drops, a seed pod forms. Wait until the pod matures and turns brown, then pick and open it. You’ll find shiny, black seeds inside. Place these inside a plastic, ziplock bag filled with moist potting soil, seal the bag, and store it in the fridge for at least three months.

3. Then remove the seeds and sow them about a half-inch deep in pots. They’ll germinate rather quickly. In about the third year, they’ll be big enough to flower and you’ll see whether your trouble was worth it.

The Daylily That Started It All
Practically everyone who has traveled country roads has seen sweeps of Hemerocallis fulva colonizing banks and filling drainage ditches. Native to China and Japan, this is the old-fashioned orange daylily aka ditch lily. To me, its blooming signals the start of summer. People either love it or hate it, because it spreads aggressively by rhizomes. It’s great when planted in a spot like that shown above, where it can basically take over. But never add it to a bed of tame perennials or it will eat them for lunch.

Fortunately for home gardeners, hybridizers have crossed many different species to breed out the aggression and add lots and lots and lots of new colors. Daylily hybrids form slowly expanding clumps that are easy to control. They’re also easy to divide — just dig up a clump in late summer, fall, or early spring, shake off the soil, and use your hands to gently pull apart individual plants. I’ve made 10 plants from one this way. This lessens the sting of paying $10-$15 for the original plant.

What’s In A Name?
A daylily is called that because most individual flowers last but a day. However, flower stalks can produce numerous flower buds and one plant can produce numerous flower stalks, so flowering usually lasts several weeks. Reblooming daylilies, such as my favorite yellow, ‘Happy Returns,’ bloom off-and-on all summer.

How to Grow Daylilies
Here comes that word “easy” again. Easy. All daylilies need is full to part sun and fertile, moist soil. They’ll tolerate drought, but bloom better if watered in summer when it’s dry. If your soil is good, fertilizing really isn’t necessary.

One problem you should watch out for is a fungal disease called daylily rust. It’s thought to have first gotten a foothold in Florida among evergreen daylilies (those bred to have foliage all winter) and then spread as infected daylilies were shipped elsewhere. Rust appears as orange and brown pustules the cover the leaves. Flowers are distorted.


Daylily rust. Photo: Jeff Lotz

But don’t swallow that cyanide capsule just yet. Most incidences of daylily rust that I’ve seen are in gardens of collectors who have hundreds of different selections they’ve bought from all over. If you have just five or ten plants, you’re unlikely to see rust. The best way to prevent it is to closely inspect your plants when you buy and then again when they first sprout foliage in spring. If you see infected leaves, remove them and throw them out with the trash. Then spray your plants according to label directions with a fungicide called Daconil. You may also want to remove and discard all daylily foliage in late winter to get rid of overwintering rust spores.

Now For The Pretty Stuff
You can buy hybrid daylilies at most garden centers. One of the best mail-order suppliers I know is Oakes Daylilies in Corryton, Tennessee. They sell hundreds of beautiful selections. Here are a few photos I shamelessly stole from their website, along with their descriptions.


‘Pandora’s Box.’ Photo: Oakes Daylilies

Pandora’s Box’ — 4-inch bloom, 19 inches tall, early-midseason, reblooming.


‘Happy Returns.’ Photo: Oakes Daylilies

‘Happy Returns’ — 3-inch bloom, 18 inches tall, early, fragrant, reblooming.


‘Frankly Scarlet.’ Photo: Oakes Daylilies

‘Frankly Scarlet’ — 4-inch bloom, 24 inches tall, early-midseason, reblooming.


‘Barbara Mitchell.’ Photo: Oakes Daylilies

 ‘Barbara Mitchell’ — 6-inch bloom, 20 inches tall, midseason, reblooming.


‘Blushing Summer Valentine.’ Photo: Oakes Daylilies

‘Blushing Summer Valentine’ — 5-inch bloom, 24 inches tall, early, reblooming.


‘Buttered Popcorn.’ Photo: Oakes Daylilies

‘Buttered Popcorn’ — 6-inch bloom, 32 inches tall, mid-late season, reblooming.


‘Chicago Arnie’s Choice.’ Photo: Oakes Daylilies

Chicago Arnie’s Choice’ — 5-inch bloom, 28 inches tall, midseason.


  1. Steve Bender


    You’re probably thinking of spider lily or magic lily. Both send up flower stalks without leaves. The first blooms in the fall. The second blooms in summer.

    July 31, 2014 at 12:56 pm
  2. tamantha

    Name of flower/or lLilly that has no Leaves

    July 23, 2014 at 6:34 pm
  3. cloresflowersblog

    Reblogged this on Clores flowers blog and commented:
    Daylily Tips!

    June 23, 2014 at 12:57 pm
  4. Judy

    I refuse to transplant any more “ditch” lilies for the deer to eat the blooms.

    June 19, 2014 at 1:46 pm
  5. John Hric

    nice post. you left out funnest after easiest. there is nothing quite like a seedling bed in bloom. all sorts of wonderful surprises to brighten a summer day.

    June 18, 2014 at 10:51 am
  6. Pat Jacobus

    I didn’t think our day lilies were going to bloom this year, brown leaves, too crowded, so asked Hubby to cut them down, planned to dig them up, within a few days they were coming back up, about 2 inch tall leaves,BUT, single stalks with buds on the tip of some. They are getting ready to bloom. Now I feel terrible. Wonder if I can still dig them up in the fall,and divide them. Guess I didn’t kill them, just hate this.

    June 16, 2014 at 4:09 pm
  7. Ellen Birmingham

    They seem to be a tasty delicacy for the deer that come through at night. By morning I have empty stems. Anyway to prevent this?

    June 16, 2014 at 10:08 am
  8. Joanna

    Hi Steve,
    Can’t figure out how to send you a questions so will do it here:
    Do you have experience with pomegranate trees?
    I have a mature pomegranate which has lot’s of fruit, but they are very not good last year. Rather small, light inside (maybe different variety? don’t tell me it’s ornamental :)) and with some brown spots inside. Any way to make them better?

    In another location we have a young pomegranate which has 2-3 3fruits each year, large and great. How to make the tree have more fruit? nitrogen fertilizer?


    June 16, 2014 at 9:47 am
  9. Cindy

    Thanks for this. We were traveling all over North Georgia and North Alabama and my husband wondered about the orange daylilies that grew every where. Very informative!!

    June 16, 2014 at 9:18 am
  10. Daylily — The Easiest Perennial | Gradegood

    […] (adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({}); When asked to suggest just one perennial for a beginning gardener to start with, my answer is always the same — daylily. No other perennial is easier to grow and comes in so many different colors, patterns, forms, and sizes. June is prime daylily time. Read full article […]

    June 16, 2014 at 9:03 am
  11. PBG

    You can also eat daylily buds. Saute em in a little butter or oil and they taste kinda like green beans or radishes or maybe both.

    June 15, 2014 at 5:44 pm

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