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Daylily Season

August 10, 2011

daylilies blooming in the blue and yellow border (photo credit: Jean Potuchek) At this time of year, as I walk around my garden each morning, I often find myself counting the remaining buds on daylilies or feeling sad at the sight of the last flower blooming on a favorite variety. I love the daylily season, and that season is now past its peak in my garden.

Daylilies are not lilies (Lilium) at all, but flowers of the genus Hemerocallis. These Asian native flowers bear some resemblance to lilies and were once (but are no longer) classified by taxonomists as part of the larger lily family (Liliaceae). Both the common name “daylily” and the botanical name Hemerocallis (rough translation: beauty for a day) refer to one of the important ways that they differ from the true lilies, the fact that each flower opens for just one day. Because a single plant can have hundreds of buds, however, the bloom period may last for several weeks (or even longer).

Hemerocallis plants have proven relatively easy to hybridize and have attracted an ever-increasing number of both professional and amateur daylily breeders. The result has been an explosion of cultivars. The American Hemerocallis Society lists almost 70,000 named, registered varieties – and this does not even begin to account for all the daylilies out there. The AHS database does not include species plants like H. flava, H. fulva (the common orange daylily) and H. citrina. In addition, hybridizers typically name and register only a fraction of the seedlings that their efforts produce, but many of their unregistered varieties find their way into gardens and into commerce. My own garden includes unnamed seedlings from two Maine daylily breeders, a deep pink flower and a pale ruffled pink from the hybridizer Don Celler, who used to have a daylily nursery just a few miles from my house, and a vivid gold flower from the Barth breeding program.

A trio of unregistered daylily cultivars (photo credits: Jean Potuchek) In order to impose some kind of order on the dizzying variety of daylilies, cultivars are typically described by color, height, flower size and shape, bloom period, whether or not they go dormant during the winter, and number of chromosomes. Diploid varieties have two sets of chromosomes, one from each parent. But breeders have developed techniques to double the number of chromosomes, creating tetraploid cultivars which typically have thicker, stronger flower scapes and larger, more substantial flowers.

Daylilies are sometimes described as “perfect perennials” because of their variety of colors and flower characteristics, the wide range of climates and soil conditions in which they can be grown, the relative absence of disease and pest problems, and the fact that they play nicely with other plants in the garden. Not all varieties can be grown in all climates; but with tens of thousands (hundreds of thousands?) of cultivars available, most gardeners still have lots of choices. I have daylilies growing in every part of my garden. And while some people like to plant large drifts of a single variety, I prefer to group plants that are similar in color, but that differ in bloom time. Using this strategy, the ten different varieties of Hemerocallis growing in my blue and yellow border, for example, provide blooms from June to August.

The first daylily to bloom in my garden each year is the extra early species Hemerocallis flava, which blooms in June with the Siberian irises. Because this variety finishes blooming before any of the others begin, I don’t consider it part of daylily season but more of a preview. Daylily season begins in earnest in late June or early July when the early rebloomers, ‘Boothbay Harbor Gold’ and ‘Happy Returns’ open their first flowers. Within a week after these two plants have begun to bloom, each is boasting multiple flowers every day, 6-8 additional daylily varieties are blooming in my garden, and two dozen other varieties have begun to bud. At the height of daylily season in late July, I can have as many as thirty different varieties blooming simultaneously.

Daylily varieties in my garden (photo credits: Jean Potuchek)
To see a slide show of daylilies in my garden – including identifying information – click on the collage above.

The first daylilies I grew in my garden were all relatively early season bloomers. Over the years, as I have added more daylilies, I have selected varieties to extend the daylily season. When I planted the fence border two years ago, I chose several very late cultivars that bloom well into September. So even as the display of yellow daylilies in the blue and yellow border is winding down and the late blooming ‘Orange Bounty’ is opening its last flowers, ‘Final Touch’ and ‘Autumn Minaret’ have just opened their first flowers, and ‘Sandra Elizabeth’ has just begun to send up flower scapes that promise more days of beauty to come. Daylily season may be past peak, but it won’t end in my garden until frost.

Fall-blooming daylilies in the fence border -- clockwise from left: Autumn Minaret, Final Touch, Sandra Elizabeth (photo credits: Jean Potuchek)

35 Comments leave one →
  1. August 10, 2011 10:18 pm

    I do love them Jean…the colors, the shape, their sweet dispositions in the garden.

    Thanks for this!


    P.S. I like it in the south when they’re called “Dailies” just sort of rolling the word together.

  2. August 10, 2011 11:12 pm

    I’ve been thinking the same thing. There’s only a few more buds on my five daylily plants and it’s kind of sad. Your photos are just gorgeous. You definitely do the genus justice.

  3. August 11, 2011 1:55 am

    How could anybody not love daylilies?

    To me they’re definitely a “must-have”…

    • August 13, 2011 9:59 pm

      Sharon, I hadn’t heard that southern elision before; it’s perfect.

      Grace, Many of my mid-late season bloomers had fewer flower scapes (and therefore buds) than usual this year — maybe because of the unseasonably dry weather when they were forming their buds — so several that I usually count on to carry me through August have already finished blooming. Thank goodness for those very late varieties that are just starting to bloom.

      Soren, I agree. I have met people who don’t care for daylilies, but I can’t imagine being without them.

  4. August 11, 2011 7:19 am

    Daylilies are a staple in my garden. I am going to a local daylily sale on the weekend to look for somre more very early and late varieties. Loved the slide show!


  5. August 11, 2011 8:10 am

    You’re so right, it’s sad when daylily season is over. I do the same thing, counting the buds wondering how many more days I’ll have my favorite plant blooming. We’re just about done here now with the exception of a new plant I just purchased – “strawberry candy” a large late bloomer with an apricot ruffled petal and reddish throat.

    • August 13, 2011 10:04 pm

      Eileen, This is a great time to go looking for late bloomers. I first discovered Autumn Minaret, Final Touch, and Sandra Elizabeth by visiting a daylily nursery in late August and seeing what was in bloom.

      Heather, I’m glad I’m not the only one who does that bud-counting thing. Do you also find yourself peering into the daylily foliage in early summer looking for signs of flower scapes? I’ve looked at Strawberry Candy, but the colors didn’t work well in my garden. It may be one I can add when I do a new front garden in a few years.

  6. August 11, 2011 8:37 am

    I know we are in the wonders of summer when the daylilies start. Many of mine have had a new flush of blooms with all the recent rain so I am happy. I plant to move a few and add a few later bloomers so thx for some recommendations.

    • August 13, 2011 10:08 pm

      Donna, Daylilies = summer for me, too. We are also finally getting some rain, and I’m hoping that my rebloomers (which are currently resting) will start putting up some new flower scapes. I love, love, love those fall-blooming plants. If you have the right place for it, Autumn Minaret is charming. It’s a very early (1951) cultivar, and it has (by today’s standards) small, simply shaped flowers and slender scapes — but the scapes grow to more than 5′ tall! When the plants get established and make a lot of flowers, they look as though they are just floating in space above the garden.

  7. sequoiagardens permalink
    August 11, 2011 9:00 am

    I nust try to get to the bottom of their failure in my garden… might it be that like bearded iris the eelworm, remnant of the fact that it was all potato lands over 50 years ago, devastates their roots? They disappear without trace, almost all of them… 😦

    • sequoiagardens permalink
      August 12, 2011 2:26 am

      PS: discovered this morning that deer might be to blame…

      • August 13, 2011 10:10 pm

        Hmm. I’m curious about what your morning evidence was. Did you catch the deer red-hooved or did they leave a calling card? A friend of mine who lives in an area with a large, voracious deer herd had her daylilies repeatedly eaten to the ground. She finally ended up surrounding her garden with deer fence.

        • sequoiagardens permalink
          August 14, 2011 4:39 am

          No sightings, although calling cards in the area are common. No, what I saw was the leaves eaten down to the ground, surrounded by untouched other growth. Seems pretty conclusive, although the friend I got them from had a whole field that I would have thought would also be vulnerable… it gives me an idea of what to plant in the fenced garden where the pld roses were…. 😉

  8. Lona permalink
    August 11, 2011 1:47 pm

    Thank you Jean for this posting on lilies. It is so informative.I did not know that much about them but love them in my garden and had started a lily bed in the woodland garden a couple of years ago now. I was searching for some late blooming ones to add to the bed in a search the other day. I saw some had tetraploid in the description and wondered what it meant. Now I know. LOL! I adore your Final Touch lily with the two toned petals. Just beautiful! I hate to see their blooming finished here now, thus the search for later blooming varieties. Great posting.

    • August 13, 2011 10:14 pm

      Lona, I’m happy to have contributed to your daylily education. Now you too can throw terms like diploid and tetraploid about with abandon! I am very partial to the bitone daylilies that have different colors on the petals and the sepals — but Final Touch is the only one that I have growing in my garden here. I’ll remedy that when I add more daylilies to the front garden in a few years. There’s a yellow-red bitone that I’ve seen blooming around the neighborhood that I covet.

  9. August 12, 2011 10:35 am

    Jean, I recently visited daylily hybridizer Walter Young at Young’s Perennials in Freeport. He was so fascinating that I went back to take photos and do a full interview. A post will follow. you would love the place.

    • August 13, 2011 10:15 pm

      Carolyn, I’ve seen signs for Young’s, but I didn’t realize he was a daylily hybridizer. I’ll look forward to your post and will be sure to visit the nursery next year.

  10. August 12, 2011 12:42 pm

    What an amazing collection of daylilies you have, Jean! Such a lovely read (and look) today.

    Happy weekend!

  11. August 13, 2011 2:24 am

    Hi Jean,

    It’s so amazing that you asked me about the colour of the ‘Blue Paradise’ phlox! I was just commenting on someone’s blog yesterday, that someone (my friend Rita) had asked me if ‘Blue Paradise’ was a ‘true blue’ colour and I wasn’t sure what to tell her. I find that sometimes it looks really blue and other times it looks much more purple.

    I don’t think I can say it ever looks pink, but I am going to really study it.

    I’ll start really noticing things like light, etc.

    • August 13, 2011 10:22 pm

      Diane, I’ve hardly ever met a daylily that I could resist, and I’ve been looking around my garden to see where I might squeeze in a few more.

      I will be very interesting to see what you observe in your Blue Paradise phlox. My best hypothesis to date is that the phenomenon is related to temperature. The electric blue color seems to appear on mornings that the temperatures are in the 40s or low 50s (7-11 C); then as the day warms up, the color turns more violet. I get the hot pink color on very hot days or when the hot sun is shining directly on the plant. I cut a stem of Blue Paradise for the house today, so I’ll be interested in seeing if it changes color in the vase or stays the color it was (blue-violet) when I cut it.

  12. August 13, 2011 9:56 am

    I always enjoy the reading yoyou log. You include such great information to go along with the photos.

  13. August 13, 2011 10:49 am

    Jean, what a gorgeous post. I love the photos, and the information is terrific. I was wondering, if you do any deadheading after the bloom. Nicely done!

  14. August 13, 2011 11:15 am

    Jean, what a treasure-trove of daylilies you have. I grew up working at a Daylily farm, and I have fond memories of mornings spent deadheading dewy daylilies, my hands stained with their dye. I can just imagine all the work that lies ahead of you each day, keeping up with this lovely crop. Thanks for sharing your beautiful pictures.

    • August 13, 2011 10:31 pm

      Karen, As a practicing academic for more than 30 years now, I’ve become a bit addicted to research and information; I’m glad you find it interesting.

      Kevin, I do deadhead. I have a ritual walk around my garden each morning, and I carry a basket to put deadheads in as I go. For the rebloomers, I remove each flower scape after it has finished blooming.

      Mollie, Deadheading at a daylily farm must have been quite a job. Most of the daylily season, I can collect all the deadheads in the basket I carry for this purpose, but at the height of daylily bloom, I have to empty it two or three times. I have some that not only stain my hands, but also my clothes (that deep-red one is the chief offender). I should probably have a special “daylily deadheading” shirt so that I confine all the stains to one garment.

  15. August 13, 2011 11:54 am

    Lovely Jean! What a beautiful collection. So cheery and welcome this time of year. I do believe my daylily you were asking about is the same as the large flower to the left in your last collage. I love it!

    • August 13, 2011 10:41 pm

      Carol, Autumn Minaret is the only daylily I’ve ever seen that grows this tall; mine has topped the 6′ fence this year. I think one of its parents must be H. altissima (tall daylily). The AHS database doesn’t include the parentage for this early hybrid, but I have seen evidence that suggests that Arlow Stout the hybridizer of Autumn Minaret was growing H. altissima.

  16. August 14, 2011 3:50 pm

    I still have daylilies blooming, too, although just a few little yellow ones. I wish the strongly colored varieties didn’t fade in the sun so much! Your garden looks so beautiful! Great blog!! :o)

    • August 18, 2011 10:47 pm

      Tammy, Thanks for visiting. I don’t have much trouble with sun fading in my Maine garden (more with colors bleeding when wet); maybe the sun just isn’t strong enough?

  17. August 14, 2011 4:09 pm

    As somebody who has only just discovered day lilies in the last year or so I really enjoyed your post Jean. I think that there is a definite possibility of a new addiction emerging 🙂

    • August 18, 2011 10:52 pm

      Anna, This is certainly an easy genus to get addicted to. I trace my addiction to the weekend “Dig Your Own” sales at Don Celler’s daylily nursery. He would have spades, plastic bags and plant tags available in his daylily field and would be available to answer questions and provide help. Customers dug up (from sandy soil, so easy to do) very healthy 2-3 fan divisions, labeled them, put them in plastic bags, and paid $5 each for them. Almost every week, I would go back and buy some blooming plants that hadn’t been in bloom yet on my previous visit. I do miss that nursery (but I may be able to feed my addiction at Walter Young’s nursery, noted by Carolyn in her comment).

  18. August 15, 2011 3:06 pm

    How handy to have had a daylily breeder just down the road from you… I went to the Olallie Daylily Gardens in southern VT at one point; seeing rows and rows of all those different colors and shapes was eye-opening. The species daylilies must be incredibly “promiscuous” to hybridize so easily. With all your different varieties, do you ever find yourself with unexpected crosses? Or are most of the hybrids sterile?

    Thanks for the feast for the senses in this post, Jean. The blues and yellows in the top photo are about the most breathtakingly gentle things I’ve seen in ages.

    • August 18, 2011 10:59 pm

      Stacy, I’ve visited the Olallie website, but not the nursery. I have a yellow-orange bitonedaylily in my Gettysburg garden that I bought as Olallie Star, but the description of Olallie Star in the AHS database doesn’t sound like what I have at all. Unfortunately, Olallie Daylily Gardens no longer seems to have this cultivar, so I wasn’t able to find out what it really looked like from them.

      I get the impression that most daylily hybrids are not sterile, which is what makes it possible to keep multiplying all those different cultivars. Because I deadhead, not many of mine get the opportunity to go to seed. But I do have one plant with peachy-pink flowers growing in the row of yellow, orange and red daylilies at the front of my property. I can’t imagine that I would have planted this color in that location, and it is also closer to the neighboring plant than I would have planted it; so this one may well be a (very pretty) self-sown volunteer.

  19. August 15, 2011 6:29 pm

    Jean, you really do have a dizzying array of daylily blooms in your garden! I had two varieties planted in containers this year (was still trying to figure out where to plant them, where they wouldn’t get eaten). Both had their flower buds systematically removed by an unseen creature though, and alas I’ve only seen a couple of flowers all season. As they’re inside the deer fence, I’m presuming a rabbit had somehow found its way in, but it’s odd that the daylily buds were eaten, and my lettuce and Asian greens were untouched! Very strange. Clearly we have a daylily critic living among us! By the way, I clicked through to your Flickr page, and it was very helpful being able to see the names of the cultivars you have, thank you.

  20. August 18, 2011 11:15 pm

    Clare, I’m sorry to hear about your daylilies. Was it one of those deals where the buds were bitten off and then left on the ground as though spit out? I’ve had that experience (so frustrating!) and have blamed deer, but maybe I was maligning them unfairly. I’ve never seen any rabbits in my area; I wonder what other critters might be daylily critics.

  21. August 23, 2011 11:30 am

    Super Blog.You are beautiful photos and Hemerocallissen.

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