Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Daylily Cultivars for Commercial Growers - Part 1

Daylily Cultivars for Home Gardeners and Commercial Growers

Emphasizing zones 4-7 
(With Some Suggestions for Zones 8-10)

Part 1

Brian Reeder

The daylily is often cited as being a carefree garden plant, tolerating a wide range of conditions and hardships and requiring little if any care. This is true in some instances, but it is not applicable to all daylilies in all areas. All daylilies are not created equally and so it is imperative to select daylily cultivars to grow in home gardens or for commercial purposes that will flourish and give good return for low input care in the conditions of that garden or growing field.

As of this writing, there are over 80,000 registered cultivars of daylilies in addition to the 40+ daylily species. Many of these are generally tough and reliable plants that will survive in a range of conditions, but those that will thrive and give the best show in a range of conditions are not all that common. As well, variabilities of plant traits, especially foliage behavior, can have a significant impact on which daylily cultivars can flourish in a given situation.

Hemerocallis fulva 'Europa' - the ubiquitous 'ditch lily'

If you are a longterm gardener or commercial plant producer, you will be familiar with daylilies, at least Stella De Oro and the common ditch lily, if not some few older cultivars that are common. If you are new to gardening or commercially growing daylilies, you may have little idea of what is out there. However, only daylily specialists, hobbyist breeders and collectors, will likely have a good idea of all the newest types and directions that currently exist. 

Stella De Oro

When non-specialists start looking into newer types of daylilies, either to grow in their gardens or to add new stock to their commercial production, they may be overwhelmed by the amazing array of new types of very advanced and fancy flowers that now exist. However, if they are only familiar with growing older types or species, they may have little idea of how to select plants that will actual work for their gardening environments. Many trends in breeding daylilies over the last few decades have produced amazing flowers, but also has seen the emergence of many plants that are not as strong or as hardy in all settings as many of the older daylily cultivars and species were known to be.

Rose F. Kennedy - A beautiful modern daylily representing great advances in flower breeding. It is very popular at this time for breeding more vigorous plants with the popular, large green throat.

Two major trends have done more to change the modern daylily than any other. 

1. Daylily breeding moved south in the last decades of the 20th century with Florida becoming the center of daylily breeding. This required the use of artificial growing mediums, the use of shade cloth and often drip systems with intensive fertilization, along with the use of evergreen foliage types (as many dormant foliage types will not live in Florida), creating plants and lineages that can tend toward tenderness in cold winter climates and that do not flourish in average soil and low-input care conditions. This is paralleled in cold winter areas by the use of greenhouses to accommodate tender plants and allow winter-breeding. 

2. Certain ‘breakthrough’ flowers that had plants with problems such as rot-susceptibility and low-vigor plant habit became extremely popular with breeders because of their flower traits and their genetic fingerprint is still showing up as problems in many of their modern descendants. As well, many daylily breeders in all climates use high input conditions with heavily amended soils, heavy fertilization and sprays for pests and diseases to ensure that the weaker plants flourish.

Ida's Magic (registered 1988) was a major breakthrough flower in its time. It launched a thousand breeding programs and is ancestral to a great many modern tetraploid daylilies with fancy piecrust edges. A Florida-bred evergreen beauty with over 400 registered offspring. 

These factors are generally understood (though often taboo to mention) within daylily hobby circles. However, problems arise when average gardeners and plant growers and sellers see these fancy new types and seek to grow them without an understanding of the potential problems and failings they may encounter, or the level of care some of these plants require. This is especially true if they only have experience with older, reliable species and cultivars. 

I have heard many accounts from both home gardeners, landscape designers and commercial plant growers and sellers of a host of problems that have turned them away from growing daylilies. As one commercial grower said to me, “I can’t waste that much money buying stock to grow and sell to only have a tiny percentage of it succeed, so I only grow Stella and I won’t ever bother with these delicate new things again.” That is not an uncommon sentiment, unfortunately. Luckily, I was able to make a list of recommendations that he could try. When he tried a few of these, he is now excited about growing daylilies as one of the species he cultivates for commercial resale. 

Solaris Symmetry is a fancy, modern flower growing on a very hardy plant with exceptional performance in cold winter climates. Bred in Wisconsin by Nate Bremer of Solaris Farms, this plant is a moderately late emerging senescent type with dormancy that shows tolerance to late spring freezes in my garden.

It is my hope in this series of articles to offer some of my observations and the names of several cultivars that I have found to be extremely useful for both home gardeners and commercial growers and sellers. My garden is located in Southeastern Kentucky. This area was formerly zone 6A but is now considered 7A. I face a set of winter circumstances that neither the deep south or the far north will tend to experience. For instance, this area has little winter snow cover, our winter temperatures can be bitter cold to semi-tropical often within the same week. Hot weather followed by freezing cold with no snow cover then followed again by hot temperatures are common in the winter. Late freezes, well after growth has begun, are also very common, happening almost every year in late April or early May. 

So my area experiences wild swings in temperature with no insulation from snowpack allowing freezes and wind to both freeze and desiccate foliage that is above ground in these conditions. Such conditions are very rough on most daylilies, unless they are the type of ‘dormant’ that shows fall senescence of foliage, forming a resting bud at or below ground level and not beginning to grow again until fairly late in the spring (April is preferable) and either showing late spring freeze tolerance (rare) or resistance (extremely rare). Very few daylilies actually have all these traits.

Ancient Elf is a "dormant" that has senescent foliage, which forms a resting bud, and is slow to emerge in spring. In this picture, taken in January, you can see that the dead foliage from the previous year is all that is visible. The resting bud is at or below ground level on this cultivar and emerges as clean, dark green foliage in spring.

However, a daylily doesn’t have to show all these traits to do well here. In daylily terminology foliage behavior is ‘dormant’, ‘semi-evergreen’ or ‘evergreen’. These are not botanically accurate terms and as such have little real meaning, and further, the breeders assign the foliage type when registering their introductions, and as some daylilies can vary in foliage behavior based upon environmental variations, these registry categories cannot be relied upon for actual information. At best, they are guesses…at worst, promotional tools.

I prefer to use observable plant behaviors to describe the foliage traits of daylilies. I mentioned several of those two paragraphs above when I described what does best here for me. I won’t go into the full listing of botanical behavior traits I use, but will give you some basic sets that will help you to understand what I am describing throughout this article.

There are five major trait pairs that I track in my own rating and selection within my breeding program. 

1. Foliage Behavior - (Senescence/Non-Senescence) - This pair describes the behavior of foliage in reaction to cold weather in the fall. Senescence describes those which have all their leaves die in fall, while non-senescence means that the foliage does not die off all at once in the fall. The non-senescence may have all their leaves frozen off, and their leaves do die (senesce) but do so slowly, one or two at a time at the base of the fan in sequence as new leaves grow. 

Here is a non-senescent daylily, showing green foliage in January in my garden. A fully senescent daylily, Ancient Elf, is shown during winter rest in the picture above this one.

2. Plant Behavior - Dormancy/Perpetual Growth (Resting bud/Open Fan) - This is the behavior of the plant in terms of resting or perpetual growth. The resting bud forms after all the leaves senesce. It is a spear shaped bud above the crown and remains so until temperature or light levels trigger it into growth. The fan is an open resting bud, so that the fan shape is present. It may be a full fan that is completely open, even growing, or it may be a small fan that has not achieved full growth but is not a closed resting bud either. 

3. Growth Triggers - Slow Emergence/Fast Emergence - Slow emergent plants take their time to emerge from a resting bud into a fan, perhaps requiring light levels, rather than temperature, to begin growth. These will often avoid many late freezes. Fast emergent plants emerge as soon as the temperature reaches a certain level, regardless of the time of year or light levels. These can emerge quite quickly in winter because of a few nights at 45 degrees F, and then suffer the effects of numerous hard freezes through the rest of the winter and into spring. These can actually freeze, die back and then regrow every time the temp rises to their trigger-level over and over again throughout the winter, causing these plants to deplete a great deal of resources that could go into flowering or fan increase. Fast or slow emergence isn’t just for those with resting buds and fall senescence. Plants that retain foliage during the winter can cease growth showing dormancy without senescence and may also begin growth again as described above, quickly at the first advent of warm temperatures or slowly and later in the season.

4. Freeze Resistance/Susceptibility - Is the ability to survive freezes with little to no damage. The resistance at temperatures below freezing is variable and there are environmental components at play (i.e., location. protection from winds, etc.) Susceptibility is the opposite and is often called ‘tender’ or ‘tenderness’ in the daylily hobby. Susceptibility to freezing can vary from slight damage to death of the plant.

Here is an evergreen, Gleber's Top Cream, showing foliage with winter freeze damage. This cultivar is hardy here, surviving the winters, but the foliage is tender, showing a great deal of damage right up through the last freeze in spring. Some plants that are evergreen may show less damage, while others are more tender and may not survive my winters.

5. Freeze Tolerance/Susceptibility - Is the ability to recover from freeze damage and perform without significant reduction in flower performance and fan increase. Conversely, susceptibility is when plant performance is harmed beyond the damage that is sustained in the actual freeze event itself.

These five trait sets allow me to track a great deal of information and thus gain a much more accurate insight into behaviors, resistance and tolerance of foliage. While the sets above would make it seems as if I am describing discrete and easily identifiable, separate traits, there is almost always a range between each set, so that you would see more of a range than actual pairs. While I prefer all five of these pairs combined as senescent, showing dormancy with a resting bud, late emergence, freeze resistance and freeze tolerance (this would be referred to as a “hard dormant’ in daylily-speak), there are other combinations that can work well here. For instance, you might have senescence, dormancy without resting bud and partially open fan, fast emergence and freeze tolerance (probably called a dormant or a semi-evergreen, depending on who registered it and who you are talking to, in daylily-speak), and that can work well here too. 

Another example that can work well here is non-senescent, dormancy, and freeze tolerant (this would be called a “hardy semi-evergreen or hardy evergreen” in daylily-speak) can work here and I have a few of these. However, anything without some level of freeze tolerance will be damaged and show reduced performance in terms of flowering and fan increase (regardless of what they are registered as). 

Whooperee is a registered evergreen that rests here in the winter and does not start growing quickly in the late winter/early spring due to warmth. It also shows very high tolerance to late freezes in spring as well as high resistance to thrips and rust and so, even though it is an early season bloomer, it usually shows excellent flowers with very little damage.

Those which are very low for freeze resistance and tolerance (highly freeze susceptible - called “tender” in daylily-speak) are either killed outright in my garden or are severely damaged, showing damage such as partial crown death (coming back as a ring of tiny, immature fans around the dead central crown) and needing a year or two of regrowth to give normal, expected performance. Obviously, such plants would be quite chancy for commercial growers in cold winter areas, though some gardeners might take extra effort to bring such plants through the winter. 

Most of these “tender” plants (freeze susceptibility) will be in the semi-evergreen and (especially) the evergreen category. The exact level of susceptibility will vary depending on winter lows and the number of freezes a given plant experiences, so that these plants may have less damage in areas further north with a reliable winter snow covering than they show here in my zone 6/7 garden without snow cover and highly variable temperatures including frequent freezes. As well, these types may have little to no damage in warm winter climates as is often found in the deep south. 

Lastly, in terms of location and performance, I must also point out that the “true dormant” types, those that actually senesce their leaves, form a resting bud and then are slow to emerge in spring, often fail in warm winter areas and have little value in the deep south, being a risk there for gardeners and commercial growers who might seek to grow them. Understanding the fine details, the variables and how they make certain daylilies suitable for certain climates, is essential for a good experience, especially for commercial growers. 

I would also stress that it is important for both gardeners and commercial growers and sellers to understand their own climate, their locale environment and their garden’s particular microclimates, in order to make proper selections. Especially for growers and sellers, understanding your growing conditions and then combining that understanding with daylilies that suit your conditions, you can have a pleasant and enriching experience, both in terms of success growing stock and having customers who are successful with their stock who wish to make repeat purchases.
One last thing I want to mention is resistance to rust and to insect predators. Rust has been in the US since 2000 and is problematic in warm-winter climates. In climates with winter freezes, rust does not typically survive (though it certainly will in greenhouses where daylilies are overwintered at above-freezing temperatures) and so is not as important a consideration for cold-winter climates. As I have tested many varieties for rust resistance levels, I will mention this in regard to the cultivars I list. Growers in warm-winter climates can improve their experience by selecting cultivars with high rust resistance. It certainly won’t hurt growers in the north to have rust resistant cultivars as well. While rust won’t survive sub-freezing weather, it can appear in the growing season from plants brought in from rust-infested growing situations.

Insect predators such as thrips can cause damage to flowers, ranging from disfiguring the flower to causing the buds to drop before they mature. I test all cultivars I grow for thrip and insect predator resistance, but I must say that most daylilies do not show good resistance for these pests. As well, most daylily species seem to be susceptible to thrips as well. However, there are a few daylilies that show high resistance to these pests and I will mention that. In situations where there is heavy thrip infestation, the use of resistant cultivars is helpful. However, if thrip infestation is heavy in a garden or growing field, spraying may be the only alternative until daylily breeders focus more unselecting for resistance to these pests.

My hybridizing garden - Lush and deep green, this garden is on a dry, south-facing slope with poor soil that is a mix of sand and clay with little top soil. I do not water or fertilize this garden, and use only white clover as a green mulch and supplemental nutrient source, as I am using the hybridizing garden to test for hardiness and vigor, as well as breeding value for these traits. The key to achieving this lush, green effect is to select cultivars that are tough, with beautiful foliage, and that show foliage traits as described in this article that work best for my climate. While this photo is from a year with adequate rainfall, through selection of hardy cultivars that do not show summer-dormancy, even in years that are dry or have drought conditions, this garden doesn't fall apart, turn yellow and collapse. While some 'dormant' registered daylilies show summer-dormancy after flowering, not all registered dormants do this. You will hear some evergreen/semi-evergreen promoters say that all 'dormant' types show summer-dormancy. This is no more true than the equally-generalist notion spread by some dormant-promoters that all evergreen registered daylilies are tender and not hardy in cold climates. Through testing, selection and research, you can find daylilies of all foliage types that present a beautiful display throughout the growing season for your garden.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Ziggy Played Guitar

Ziggy Played Guitar

(Grey Witch x Lily Munster)
42" scapes - 8" flower - Diploid - Early Mid - Diurnal - 3 branches - 17 buds - Fragrant - Semi-evergreen - Rebloom - Unusual Form - Cascade

Ruffled, cascading grape-purple petals and sepals with dark purple eye above green to chartreuse throat transitioning into white to bluish-white rays radiating into the eye and the white midrib with narrow white to bluish-white edges on petals and sepals.

For a complete list of available daylilies and pricing, click here.
For breaking news about Ziggy Played Guitar, click here.

Named for the first and last three words of the famous David Bowie song, 'Ziggy Stardust', this wonderful flower is a tribute to his innovation and aesthetic. The effect of the eye and throat of the flower reminds me of the famous 'thunderbolt' makeup design Bowie wore on the cover of his album 'Aladdin Sane'. The narrow, cascading unusual form reminds me of Bowie's typical lithe and dramatic pose. If this Ziggy played an instrument, it would definitely be a guitar, and this cultivar is as wild, eye-catching and memorable as the creator of the song it is named for!

Ziggy Played Guitar is a wonderful cascading unusual form that has been a real standout since its first flower. From seeds I purchased on the Lily Auction in 2010, the first flower was in 2012. The color is bright, clear and pretty, standing out strongly in the garden. The big throat starts out green radiating out into white rays that then move into bluish-white midrib and petal and sepal edges and the throat fades to jade and chartreuse with the same white and bluish-white rays in the evening. The darker eye makes the complex throat stand out even more. The petals and sepals are a bright grape-purple that holds well through the day and withstands rain and sun. The flower is large and the form is always stunning. The cascading petals are ruffled and the sepals curl and roll with a wavy edge.

Sometimes the flower is polytepal. Not often enough that I noted that on the registry, and I have never really calculated the percentage, but it does it a few times most years and when it does, it is REALLY awesome! 

In the above picture of a poly flower you can really see the bluish-white tone that radiates out of the throat and onto the edges of the flower.

Ziggy in the grow-out field showing how bright and eye-catching it is from a distance. It is really spectacular at clump strength with the tall scapes holding the flowers above many other things. The branches are also well distributed on the scape and so flowers are not just all at the top, but well-distributed above the foliage.

Here the row head-on, and a poly flower on Ziggy Played Guitar front and center. It has thrown poly seedlings for me. I suspect if it were mated with high-percentage poly daylilies, it would make some great poly kids. The profusion of bright flowers and regular, reliable rebloom in my garden is a big plus, giving a lot of show in the garden. I usually see instant rebloom as well as late season rebloom.

Ziggy Played Guitar has only been pollen fertile for me, but the pollen is very fertile (as of 01/29/2018, I have confirmation that Ziggy has set pods for a grower in a greenhouse, so it isn't sterile, but I would still call it pod-difficult). After a couple of years of getting no pods, I questioned whether I should even use it, or if it could ever be an introduction, but from 2012 to 2016, it never showed a speck of rust and the seedlings I produced from its pollen have tended to be very rust resistant and show many of the amazing traits of Ziggy's flower as well. By 2016 I knew it would have to be an introduction. It just has too much good going for it not to introduce it. The branching and bud count is moderate, but the rebloom more than makes up for that. Many of its seedlings also show rebloom for me.

This late evening shot of Ziggy Played Guitar really captures the drama of this flower in the garden. If you love cascades even half as much as I do, this one is a staggering flower. Those weeping flowers in their bright and clear colors on the tall scapes glow in the garden. Even by sunset the flower is still gorgeous with strong substance. The bluish tones only become stronger through the day and the throat still shows a nice jade tone even at sunset. This flower radiates like a star, as wild as Ziggy and as strange as the spiders from Mars.

With semi-evergreen foliage it has been very hardy here every winter (even the brutally cold polar vortex winters of 2013/14 and 2014/15), never showing serious damage, never reducing the number of fans or dying out in the center of the clump. I don't know how far it will go, but from its performance during the polar vortex winters, my guess is that it will do good further north, probably at least into zone 5 and maybe even into 4. I have a report of it doing well in testing in zone 5B. However, with the foliage type, it should also do well in warmer climates, at least zone 8 and 9, and with the strong rust resistance and breeding value for rust resistance it has shown during my five year screening program, this should be a boon for growers and breeders in warm winter gardens where rust is present and can overwinter. Reports from a friend testing Ziggy in the south show that Ziggy thrives with fast increase and shows extremely high rust resistance there also. Ziggy Played Guitar is moderately thrip resistant. Thrips are only a major problem here in the early season and so the later season rebloom scapes escape this problem in my garden. That may vary in other situations though, depending on when thrips are most active. 

Ziggy Played Guitar has been an excellent breeder for me, producing amazing seedlings and many with very high rust resistance as well as striking, lovely and weird flowers. I think this plant will be a boon for unusual form, polytepal, bluish-purple and/or rust resistance programs. I also think it will simply be a pleasure in any garden it is grown in.