Monday, March 13, 2017

Growing Daylilies - Part 3 Care and Feeding

Growing Daylilies

Part 3
The Care and Feeding of Your Flowering Friends

In this post we will look at the care required by various types of daylilies. Not all daylilies are created equally, and some will require more care than others to get equal results. However, no matter how well any given cultivar will do in average conditions, a little care can usually make them do better. Whether you need to push them to their maximum though will depend on how much input you wish to give them. There are daylily cultivars that will give a gorgeous display with little to no inputs, even in poor conditions. There are also daylilies that will dwindle away without a lot of attention. You can't assume they are all going to perform equally in any given setting.

All the pictures in this post are of the gardens here on the farm. The picture at the header above is in my hybridizing garden, while the rest are from some of the display gardens. The hybridizing garden rarely receives any inputs, as plants are being tested there for resilience, tolerance and resistance to stress factors. The display gardens and growing beds, on the other hand, are sprayed for thrips and aphids from March to June. They receive moderate fertilize, nitrogen and lime in spring, high phosphorus liquid fertilize sprayed on the foliage a couple of time in late spring and early summer as scapes are building, and possibly a bit of nitrogen and lime or a 10-10-10 pellet with micronutrients after flower in late summer. I often then add a high potassium fertilize in fall to encourage root growth. These gardens are rarely watered, except in serious drought. These pictures demonstrate what good, reliably hardy daylily cultivars can do in the garden with just a minimum of care. The picture of my hybridizing garden at the top shows what tough daylilies can do with basically no inputs. Proper selection can give you great returns for little input. 

There are certain basic requirements all daylilies have - water, sunlight, food (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, micronutrients) and an acceptable pH range. If any of these are absent or outside of the acceptable range daylilies can't flourish, though they might survive. Whether they survive or not will depend on how far out of the acceptable range any given requirement is. Many daylilies are very forgiving and can survive in inadequate conditions, but even a slight input in less-than-ideal conditions can often make a difference.

I have written a great deal about using stress and less-than-ideal conditions in a breeding program in order to select for plants with hardiness and tolerance, but those are tools to use in a breeding program to push the boundaries of survivability and tolerance through selection. For anyone growing plants to enjoy their beauty, whether that is a clump of an older daylily cultivar in their yard or a home gardener with several daylilies, making sure the necessary elements are within the basic desirable levels will help to ensure the plants give a good performance.

Water is essential. Daylilies like water. They are not desert plants. We often see daylilies listed as "drought tolerant"or plants for xeriscaping, but I don't really think that is true. They generally don't really tolerate dry conditions or drought, though a handful do and some of the species do, but many cultivars, especially newer and very fancy ones usually don't. Most will survive dry conditions and drought, but few tolerate it well. Most daylilies need about 1" of water each week to be at their best. They can take more and still flourish, many even thrive on more. If your area is suffering drought and you want your daylilies to perform normally or at least not show drought stress, you will need to give them some water during dry periods. 

If you don't want to waste water just to get flowers, then don't water them. They will not give normal performance, and if the drought is sustained, they may show stress such as wilted, fallen-over, yellowing foliage or diminished flowering, sometimes even full dormancy. If it is around the bloom season, they may have shorter-than-normal scapes and they may drop some or all of their buds. In very severe cases, their scapes may even dry-up and die completely. Sustained drought in fall and winter can reduce the quality and quantity of flower in the next year, and may even cause clump size to diminish. Dry conditions can also drastically reduce or stop reblooming from occurring. However, the majority of daylilies will survive and can revive and become their normal selves again once weather conditions return to normal. If you are trying to grow daylilies in perennially dry conditions, such as desert or near-desert regions, you will simply have to water to some extent to make sure that the daylilies give performance approaching normal.

Whether you water or not will depend on you, your conditions and your feelings. It is your decision to make. In my hybridizing garden and seedling beds, for instance, I almost never water during drought. I want to find those cultivars or seedlings that can perform normally or close to normally, as well as those that show little or no drought stress. Such cultivars do exist, but they are the exception. (Examples include Frans Hals, So Lovely, Ancient Elf and Chicago Apache). It is only by finding those with such traits, breeding from them and testing their seedlings to select those showing equal or greater tolerance that the limits of stress-response can be expanded, but you probably won't want to use such tactics in a yard, garden or collection where you just want to enjoy the flowers. 

Sunlight is an important element, as most daylilies require full sun to give the most flowers. However, as with all things daylily, there are variables. For instance, many red, purple and 'black' flowers are much better with evening shade, as many of these will melt in the hot evening sun. There are daylily species and cultivars that will thrive in moderate shade. Most will survive, but many will have drastically reduced flowering or no flowers at all. With that said though, some will do very well with a good amount of shade. It is my experience that sun in the first half of the day and shade in the last half of the day seems to be very good for a lot of daylilies. One big exception is those cultivars that show dark scapes, buds and seed pods. These types need afternoon sun to show the best depth of color in my experience.

Food is important to all living things. Like all plants, daylilies produce their own food through photosynthesis, so if they have water and sunlight through part of the day, many daylilies require little else to survive. However, even a small amount of supplemental feeding can make a significant difference in their performance, especially amongst some of the newer types that have been bred and raised for generations with heavy supplemental feeding. The major nutrients that plants require are nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. There are also a range of essential micronutrients that most plants require. Various soils will differ in the amount of any of these nutrients they contain. I always advise that you get your yard/garden soil tested, which is easily available through most county extension offices. 

Daylilies are monocots - liliod grasses - and as such, nitrogen is very important to them. If you add nothing else, a bit of nitrogen in the spring and the late summer will give your daylilies a boost. As nitrogen is leeched out of the soil through rain, it is almost always safe to add a bit of nitrogen. However, phosphorus and potassium do not leech out of the soil to the same extent as nitrogen so if your soil already has enough of these elements, adding more may actually cause problems. Get your soil checked if you want to do more than add a little nitrogen.

For many who just want some flowers in their yard or home garden, there may be little or no need to add any fertilizers, especially if you have fairly good soil to begin with. I have seen some types of older daylilies flourish for years with no fertilizers added at all. A safe route if you haven't had your soil tested is to use compost or organic fertilize that contains small levels of the N-P-K and may also contain micronutrients and even mycorrhizal inoculant. Your decision on whether to fertilize or not and how elaborate to go into fertilizing your garden will be your decision to make, but know that there is a range of options that runs from no input to high input, and know that there are daylilies that can perform well with no inputs, but there are also daylilies that require some inputs to give even average results.

pH is the measurement of the alkalinity or acidity. A balanced pH is 7.0. Above 7.0 is alkaline, while below 7.0 is acidic. Daylilies do well in the range of about 6.0 to 7.5. Above 7.5 is too alkaline in most instances, while below 6.0 is too acidic. Around 6.5 to 6.7 is very good for daylilies. To adjust these levels in the acidic range, one applies sulfur, while making the soil more alkaline is done with the addition of lime. Again, as with fertilizer addition, it is best to have your soil tested for pH before you start adding amendments.

There is one other factor that everyone must consider in growing daylilies, and that is time. A modicum of patience can go a long way. When you purchase a daylily, you will most often receive a bare-root division that has been dug up, cleaned of soil and has usually been taken off of a mature clump and usually shipped to your through the mail. This all causes stress. That division will then be planted in your soil, which may be very different from the soil it was grown in. As well, your entire environment and care may be different than it was growing in. It is only natural then that your plant will take some time to overcome that stress and establish in your garden. Most daylilies are very resilient and survive and flourish with no problem, but they are not all equal in this regard.

There are many daylilies that can be divided in the spring and will then bloom that summer, but none will show their full potential that first year. Even the best growers take two years to settle in, but many daylilies take up to three years to settle in and really show their full potential in the garden. However, there are some daylilies that take much longer to get settled in. Some of these may take two or even three years to show their first flower scape, let alone their full potential. I make every effort not to offer daylilies that take many years to settle in or that don't establish and grow readily. Be careful though, as not all daylilies are created equally in this regard.

Growing many daylilies requires little or no effort beyond planting them, but even a little care will see your plants perform better in your yard or garden. While many collectors and breeders rely on high-input care, and a few daylilies will not flourish without it, most will not require that level of effort. If you want to grow daylilies, but don't want to make a lot of effort, you are in luck. There are many daylilies that will likely flourish for you and give you years of enjoyment. You just need to be discriminating and make some effort to learn what plants will flourish with the level of care you are willing to give. I have composed this list of Garden Standouts from my own garden experience. For more information on daylilies, you might want to look over the AHS Frequently Asked Questions page.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Growing Daylilies - Part 2 Uses of Daylily Colors

Uses of Daylily Colors in the Landscape

There are many lovely and varied daylily colors to choose from. In fact, there are so many variables of form, color and pattern as to be almost bewildering. In my hybridizing and growing beds, there is not a primary focus on arrangement, with most arrangement being for height and to some extent the color and/or patterning. However, I have been growing daylilies in the landscape for many years, so I can offer some observations for making attractive plantings in the landscape.

Certain color families seem to work best together. The first major break is between warm colors and cool colors. They can be used together or separately. When used together, one might select cool colors as the background and then make accents of warm colors, or we can make the background warm and then add cool accents. In my personal experience, the most relaxing gardens have cool colors as the background with warm tones as accents. However, if you are energized by warm colors and enjoy their bright sunny glow, you might want to consider using warm tones in the background.

Daylilies come in a wide array of colors. Ranging from near-white to near-black, most tones are found in daylily flowers, and many flowers have interesting combinations of one or more colors. The most common colors are yellows and golds, with orange also being common in many species and hybrids alike. In addition to the species-colors, there are near-white, lavender, pink, red, maroon, and purple daylilies, all the way to heavily pigmented red/maroon/purple flowers that have a near-black appearance, as well as a whole range of pale flesh to peach to melon to dark melon-orange that seem to be based on a 'melon' mutation. 

With so many different colors, one might choose to collect them all and have a wide range of variety. That is a perfectly legitimate thing to do. Collector's gardens are often amazing displays of variety and novelty, and are the most wonderful places to learn about the range of daylilies. Most hybridizer's will have a lot of different colors and form, even if they aren't breeding from them all.

However, for the average gardener or homeowner who likes daylilies and wishes to grow some, or for the avid gardener who does not want to specialize in daylilies, there are other, more designed possibilities that can give you great satisfaction with daylilies. Even for those specializing in daylilies there may come a time when a more arranged and designed garden is desired and I hope some of these hints may also help you in making choices in your garden design.

Background Color

In choosing a garden layout, background color is very important to consider and large plantings of similar colors (or even the same cultivar en masse) can tie the garden together and allow the specimen plantings and other accents to stand out more strongly. Daylilies can make a beautiful garden in and of themselves, but in home gardens and mixed gardens, they can be mixed into the garden in numbers large or small, as desired. When daylilies are used to form the background, either for a mixed garden or of a predominantly daylily garden, it is wise to pick a complementary color to your accent plantings. 

So if you have a particular love of purple as the main accent specimens, you might want to choose yellows in shades from palest yellow through canary yellow to create the background to make the purple accents more prominent. If you want dark flowers as your accents, a background of light colors will allow the dark flowers to show up in stark contrast. It is my experience that the best range of tones for a cool background is the near-white through pale flesh melon and pale yellow tones. These allow other colors to stand out, and these tones will complement most other colors. I find these light tones are calming in the garden in mid to late summer when the weather is so hot and they also will often show good sun tolerance, allowing the background to look fresh late into the evening.

For a warm background, bright yellows, oranges, golds,  and red tones can be used. These colors and combinations of these colors can be found in many forms of daylilies. The warm tones can be used as a background as a single color (or even a single superior cultivar) or these tones can be mingled for a very fiery effect. I prefer this effect in late spring/early summer - the early daylily season into the early-mid season - when the weather is not so warm as it will be in high summer, and when the bright, cheery colors are very welcome in the landscape. Bright yellows as a backdrop to red specimen plantings can make a lovely, bright effect. I also like large mass plantings of orange, which can have the effect of the ditch lily without the rampant growth and incorporate traits seen in the hybrid daylilies.

Accent Plants

The more complex patterns and forms in daylilies are often overwhelming, especially to newcomers. They are extraordinary. While many of us who collect or breed daylilies may have these all over the place, in no particular order or arrangement, gardeners who haven't fallen deep into the addiction may want to focus on these types as accent plants. Now with that said, any daylily can make an interesting accent, if placed well with other colors and textures that make that plant stand out, but the interesting forms and color combinations of the advanced patterns can make an especially eye-catching accent planting.

Using a hot color as an accent point against a cool background can be very attractive, as can a cool color against a hot background planting. Using daylilies with eyes, eyes and edges, patterned eyes, double or triple edges and patterned eyes, or any of the other advanced combination can be especially attractive when the color of the eye and edge or the background color of the flower matches or compliments the colors planted in the background. For instance, a near white flower with burgundy eye and edge can be very attractive against a near white mass background planting, whether of daylilies or other flowering plants. Conversely, the same near white flower with burgundy eye and edge could be very attractive with a background planting of burgundy foliage, plants with burgundy flowers or burgundy self-colored daylilies.

There are many interesting flower forms that can also make for very eye-catching accent plantings. I find that yellow spiders such as Kindly Light can be very attractive in front of a backdrop of hardy banana trees such as Musa basjoo. The large, round-petalled daylily flowers look especially attractive with dinner plate Dahlias and large double-flowered roses. Tall daylilies can make a nice backdrop for most anything, even in wildflower gardens, but I like them very much mixed with tall lilium. 

Any especially attention-grabbing daylily can be attractive with a backdrop of simpler daylilies of a matching or complementary color, or with a backdrop of other plant species. In the gardens here, we often use coneflowers and painted daisies as backdrops for mass plantings of daylilies, with the fronts of the borders a mixture of short annuals, perennials and short-scaped daylilies. Try mixing daylilies with other plants, being aware of the combinations of warm and cool tones, complementary or contrasting colors and heights. Or, if you want to focus on a daylily garden, apply the same principles when selecting the cultivars you want to combine to make an attractive planting. Daylilies have a place in every garden, provided that they are well chosen for the environment in which you garden, the particular niche you need them to fill and that you select a cultivar or cultivars that are hardy, durable and will flourish under the effort you wish to put into them.