Using Day Lillies in the Landscape

September 11th, 2008 by Donna Wheatley Leave a reply »

Day Lily
Creative Commons License photo credit: audreyjm529

Donna, I have day lilies that I have been nurturing in the garden for a few years to multiply, now I’m ready to transplant them into the landscape. My question is this – 90% of the time they are foliage at best, and ratty foliage at worst so I Don’t really want them to be the dominant plants in a big area. How do I place them so that they can be seen when they are in bloom but not be unattractive the rest of the time?

Also, what companion plants (annuals for example) will be compatible with soil, water, and fertilizer requirements of the day lily plants?

Finally, any transplanting tips? Is now (September) the best time or should I wait until full dormancy?

Think about the height of the BLOOMS, not the height of the foliage. Many daylilies have quite tall scapes, so you can place them deeper into the bed where taller plants in front will hide the foliage when it looks ratty. But also, remember that when the foliage looks bad, usually right after they bloom, you can go through your beds and pull off the bad looking leaves, or even cut the entire plant down. They will make nice fresh foliage again inside of two weeks.

Fall is an excellent time to divide daylilies. It’s not too soon now. And, by the way, many hybrid daylilies bloom much better if they are divided every two or three years. I have one, “Beautiful Edgings”, that will literally bloom all summer if it is divided every year.

To divide them, dig up the entire clump by cutting a circle around the clump with your spade, cutting down at the outermost reaches of the foliage.

Shake off the soil and then look down into the center of the clump. You will see that the foliage forms fans. Each fan is a division, but I usually leave three or four fans to each division so that I’ll have plenty of blooms the next year.

Some daylilies can be divided by simply pulling the fans apart. Many are tougher. You can use a serrated knife or pruning saw to cut down between fans, or (and this is better than cutting) you can plunge two pitchforks, back to back into the center and then pull the fork handles down to leverage the fans apart. Daylilies are tough and will recover quickly from this rough handling as long as there are some roots still attached to the fans, and they are replanted in good soil.

Once you have the clump divided, it’s time to replant. Daylilies should be planted two feet apart. ALWAYS add some good organic compost or rotted manure to the holes. Daylilies are fairly heavy feeders. I usually add about half a bag of composted manure to each hole. That would be 20 pounds.

Pour the organic matter over the hole area. It should be two to four inches deep. Start digging and turning the soil where the plant will be so that it’s loose and the organic material is well mixed into the soil to about a foot’s depth.

Then dig out a hole about 12 to 18 inches wide by a spade’s depth. Form a mound of soil in the bottom of the hole so that the top of the mound comes up to the level of the surrounding ground. Place the dayliliy division on top of the mound with the roots laying down and around the sides of the mound. Hold the division upright with one hand and scoop the amended soil you removed from the hole back into the hole with the other hand. Fill the hole in, bringing soil up to the bottom of the plant’s crown (the place where the roots meet the leaves). It should be level or slightly higher than the surrounding ground level. Firm it in with your hands.

Now spread two to four inches of organic mulch around the plant, leaving about an inch of ground clear of mulch all around the crown. Water it in well.

Some people cut the foliage back by half, others just leave it as is. I have done it both ways and it doesn’t seem to make much difference. Either way, some of the outer leaves on the fan will turn yellow and die over the next few weeks. This is normal, and I just pull them off to make the plant look better.

Daylilies are so easy to grow in so many conditions that almost anything can be used as a companion plant with them. Daylilies are at their best with all day sun, but they will still bloom with as little as six hours. They are at their best with regular moisture, but with a good mulch, they tolerate drought very well. I have seen them planted with hostas in the shade and with roses in full blazing sun. This is just one more reason that they may just be the single most popular perennial.

I particularly like to use companions that have a different foliage form for textural interest. In other words, don’t plant another “grassy” foliaged plant right next door to them.
Here, daylilies bloom at the same time that shasta daisies bloom. I plant the daisies right behind the daylilies so that when they’re done and cut back, the daylily foliage hides them.

Daylilies are often my “second row” in my borders, and are planted right behind annuals. Think about the blooms of each individual plant. Say you have a daylily that has a pink bloom with a yellow throat. Plant an annual in front of it whose bloom matches the yellow of the daylily. Then, plant them both in front of a plant that has yellow foliage, say Isla Gold tansy.

Or, plant something that has a tiny little pink bloom on spikes (like penstemon) behind the daylily and then something low with a yellow bloom in front, like melampodium, marigolds, Moonbeam Coreopsis. See? The trick is to make sure the pinks are the same and the yellows are the same.

Rather than planting one long row of daylilies, design little “vignettes” of plants that echo the colors that are in each daylily bloom. This is a really fun and easy way to get some knockout scenes in your garden.

Sometimes you won’t get the combination right the first time. Maybe you get a cool yellow and a warm yellow next to each other and they are jarring. Plants are very easy to move around, and I do alot of it, even when things are blooming. As long as you dig out a large rootball and water them in immediately, they rarely ever miss a beat.

I like to plant early spring flowering bulbs between daylilies. The daylilies go at least partly dormant in the wintertime when the bulbs are coming up. (therefore, no empty ground) Then when the bulbs have bloomed and their foliage begins to ripen and look ratty, the daylilies are coming up nice and fresh and green to hide the bulb foliage. (Bulbs are also good under deciduous shrubbery like roses and hydrangeas for the same reason.)

Daffodils, snowflakes, and spanish bluebells (Hyacinthoides hispanica) are especially good companions. I usually plant a cluster of 3 to 5 bulbs exactly halfway between the daylily clumps so that later, when it’s time to dig daylilies again, I will know where the bulbs are and get them up before I cut them with my spade.


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