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.