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Between the Rows: The durable daylily

  • Olallie Lass is one of the few daylilies Pat Leuchtman brought with her from Heath to Greenfield, having found the sunny yellow flower at a South Newfane, Vt. farm. For the Recorder/Pat Leuchtman

  • Ann Varner is another variety of daylily Pat Leuchtman brought with her from Heath to Greenfield, having bought it from a Northfield gardener about a decade ago. For the Recorder/Pat Leuchtman

  • Daylilies come in many different varieties with different appearances, such as this unique Lemon Madeline daylily. For the Recorder/Pat Leuchtman

  • The pink ruffle daylily is another unique variety that grows well in Pat Leuchtman’s Greenfield garden. For the Recorder/Pat Leuchtman

  • LEUCHTMAN



For the Recorder
Monday, July 16, 2018

The daylily seems like a quintessential American flower, its orange blossoms blazing as they do along the edges of summer byways.

And yet, daylilies have an ancient history beginning in China about 5,000 years ago. Chi Pai wrote a materia medica for Emperor Huang Ti dating back to 2697 B.C. when the flowers were used more medically than for ornament.

By 1500 C.E., the daylily had traveled to Europe. In 1793, Linneaus, who introduced the binomial system of nomenclature, placed daylilies in the genus Hemerocallis in the Liliaceae family. Perhaps it was as this flower passed through Greece that it was given the name Hemerocallis. The Greek word hemera means “a day” and kallos means “beauty,” hence “beautiful for a day.” It was a sad day for me when I learned about “beautiful for a day.” I picked a bouquet of daylilies for a dinner party many years ago, and found the blossoms all closed and wilting by the time my guests arrived.

Their history clearly shows that daylilies are tough plants that do not need a lot of fussing. They like a sunny spot and a fertile well-drained soil, but it is interesting to note that they are listed among the plants suitable for a rain garden. Still, while rain gardens are designed to collect a lot of rain water, they are also designed to allow that water to sink deep into the ground within a day or two.

Whether your daylilies are in a rain garden or not, keep them well watered in the spring when they are setting buds.

Fertilizing in the spring is a good idea. My friend and sister garden blogger, Dee Nash, grows lots of daylilies. She suggests using fertilizers high in nitrogen. This will help with bloom, but also encourage an increase in the size of the clump. I noticed that the Greenfield Farmers Cooperative Exchange sells organic Espoma Urea fertilizer which would fill the bill. Actually, if you have good soil, you might only need to fertilize every two years. It is also a good idea to have your soil tested periodically to make sure it is not getting out of balance.

Mulching after planting, or doing any necessary weeding or fertilizing, is a good idea. You can mulch with compost or with commercial mulch. I am so glad we live in Greenfield where it is easy to get excellent compost and mulch from Martin’s Farm. Our garden would not be thriving if it were not for Martin’s compost and compo-mulch.

Nash suggests deadheading the spent blossoms, and cutting down the scapes (stems) when the plant is done blooming. I was given a small pair of Corona mini snips this spring, and I find it perfect for deadheading and any other fine snipping that my garden requires.

Daylilies are best planted in spring or the fall. Autumn is a perfect time to divide your daylilies if the clump has increased well.

To divide your daylilies, begin by cutting down the foliage to five or six inches. When you do this, it is easy to see how daylilies grow in “fans.” Dig up the whole clump, shake off as much soil as possible, and then gently wash off the rest of the soil. Instead of using a hose, you could simply soak them for an hour or so in a pail of water. You will be able to pull the clump apart once it is cleaned.

Dig a generous hole a foot deep and at least 18 inches wide. Mound a pile of soil in the middle and arrange the roots of two or three daylily fans over that mound. Gauge this so that the crown of your plant will be no more than an inch below the soil. Half bury your roots, then water thoroughly. Finish by adding soil until the roots are covered by no more than an inch of soil. Water again.

I have been out checking the daylilies I planted in 2015. In the fall, I will divide some of the larger clumps. They have increased in size and I don’t want them to get overcrowded. I also want to make a fuller daylily border along the pebble path at the back of the garden.

Of course, you will also want to buy daylilies from time to time. Today, July 14, is the Daylily and Arts Festival at Silver Gardens at 23 Pickett Lane in Greenfield from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. There will be hundreds of daylilies to choose from.

If a ride to Vermont appeals, you might stop at the Olallie Daylily Farm in South Newfane, which is open Thursday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 pm. I first went to Olallie with a friend more than 30 years ago. She told me this place was unusual because it was so hard to get the gardener there to sell you anything. We met young Christopher Darrow, who was taking over the farm that had begun with hybrids created by his grandfather, Dr. George Darrow. I did find a daylily I liked, but Chris Darrow said, “Not for sale.” I chose another and another, but no go.

Finally, I asked him what I could buy, and he allowed the purchase of Olallie Lass, which is a Darrow hybrid in a sunny yellow. It blooms still. Nowadays, Chris Darrow will sell you any plant of your choice — and you can even buy blueberries at the farm.

Pat Leuchtman has been writing and gardening since 1980. Readers can leave comments at her website: www.commonweeder.com.