Daylily Culture

TBay Area Daylily Buds
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Soils and planting...                     

Daylilies are generally one of the most durable and forgiving perennials available on the market today.  They do, however, respond best to well drained soils with a pH of around 6.7 to 6.8 (slightly acidic).  Where soils are too acidic, amending the soil with lime produces results at a low expense.  Alkaline soils may be treated with peat moss and other organic matter to lower pH.  Where soils are particularly difficult, contact your local county or state agricultural extension office.    Many people go to great pains to create optimum soil mixtures for daylilies, but this is usually not necessary.  A good garden soil which drains well generally is all that is needed.   Northeast Wisconsin has heavy clay soils which do not drain well, but even with these conditions daylilies often thrive with little or no added attention to the soil.  People who garden in heavy clay soils, however, are well aware of the extra work that such soils create for planting, dividing and transplanting daylilies.  The work load over the years can be considerably reduced by first amending the soil with an inert material such as perlite and/or with copious amounts of organic matter. Organic matter in garden soil can be quite beneficial for daylilies and other plants.  Positive soil characteristics of organic matter are: additional water holding capacity, improvement of aeration, increased soil friability, additional nutrients are available and cultivation becomes easier.  Most sources of organic matter are relatively equal in their properties to for soil improvement, once composted.  Certain sources, like pine needles, can increase soil acidity if heavily used.  

Daylilies should be planted two to three feet apart, so at least three years of growth can be accommodated comfortably.  Loosen soil in the garden to a depth of approximately twelve inches and create a hole that will comfortably hold the roots of the daylily.  Many growers build a mound in the bottom of the hole on which the center of the plant will sit and from which the roots fall gently away.  The crown of the plant (where stem meets the roots) should be planted no deeper that 1 to 2 inches below the surface.  If planted too deep the plants may rot or later not flower properly.  Firm the soil around newly planted daylilies and water thoroughly.   

Watering and fertilizing...


Daylilies are sturdy plants which can tolerate drought conditions very well.  They do not like to be wet for prolonged periods, however.  If daylilies are planted in a very dry location or rain is lacking they will benefit from watering.  Many growers supply extra water during bloom season as this enhances flower size, scape strength and the overall appearance of the plant.      Fertilizing daylilies has been a somewhat controversial subject and remains somewhat unclear.  Gardeners do know that they  respond positively to fertilizer applications.  Recently, studies on this subject point to the use of high nitrogen fertilizers producing the most benefit overall.  Some growers have reported no ill effects from frequent applications of high nitrogen fertilizers, even just before flowering.  To remain safe, we recommend fertilizing one time up to 4 weeks before blooming and one time in late summer (withhold fertilizers in fall so that plants slow their growth and harden off for winter).  Applications of water soluble fertilizer may be sprayed directly on to plants or granules can be spread around the plants.  Many growers use time-release fertilizers, such as Osmocote™, with excellent results.   Milorganite™ has also proven effective and is an inexpensive fertilizer that may repell deer and other animals from the garden.   Application rates should follow the manufacturer's recommendations.  

Sunlight, mulch, and disease...  

Daylilies love sun.  A minimum of six hours of full sun is needed for proper growth and flowering.  Some cultivars do better with more or less sun.  Protection from mid and late afternoon sun, if possible,  will help flower color to remain more consistent.    Flowers which withstand the sun's heat are said to be "sun fast."  Almost all light-colored flowers perform quite well in this area, while red and purple daylilies are particularly susceptible to color change (melting) from the heat of the sun.   Mulching daylilies is not usually necessary, but it is recommended for plants going through their first winter after planting.  Some evergreen and semi-evergreen varieties may require mulching every year due to marginal hardiness in Wisconsin.  AHS Region 2 compiles an annual list of Popular Cultivars , through a poll, that may be good examples for our gardens. Disease is seldom a problem with daylilies, although fungal and bacterial infections can be bothersome if weather conditions are right.  The greatest enemy of this hardy perennial is overly wet conditions that weaken the plant to the previously mentioned pathogens.  The cure is prevention, plant daylilies in well drained soils whenever possible.  A number of commercial products are widely available if infections do occur.   In most cases the daylilies survive the infection, with only partial loss of the plant, and they out-grow the problem with no lingering effects.  If you feel it is necessary to treat your plants with a chemical for bacterial or fungal infection, please consult your local agricultural agent.   A new disease called daylily rust showed up in gardens around the world in 2000.  The disease manifests itself as orange/yellow powdery spores that destroy leaf tissue of the daylily plant.  Daylily rust has a complex life cycle and much information is yet to be gathered.  It does appear that conditions in the southern part of the United States are more conducive to its reproductive cycle.  Many gardens in the northern tier of U.S., which reported rust in 2001, found no rust in the summer of 2002.  Studies have recently found that daylily rust does not typically survive winters in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 5 and lower.  The Daylily Rust Information Page is an excellent resource for information and links to other sites concerning this disease. A number of animal pests can and do like daylilies.  The most problematic for gardeners in northeast Wisconsin is thrips (particularly during years with warm winters and dry springs).  These little insects are seldom seen,  but can cause bud damage during early scape formation.  The injured buds grow into flowers with color distortions, small bumps, and sometimes deformed petals and sepals.  Dark colored flowers, such as reds and purples, are often most drastically influenced (due to the way pigments are carried in the flowers).  Fortunately, thrips seem to do little damage to the overall health of the plant.  A spray mixture of Avid™ and Orthene™ is very effective in combating thrips, if sprayed on plants in the spring when they are approximately six inches tall.  Avid™ is very expensive, and must be purchased in a quantity which most gardeners would not use in a lifetime.  Once again, we recommend contacting a local agriculture agent to find a product that is more economically feasible, unless you have fields of daylilies.  Old leaves and plant material in the garden is suspected of helping thrips overwinter.  We have noticed a marked difference in gardens which are cleaned of foliage in the fall.   Many gardeners prefer to put up with the typically small amounts of damage thrips cause rather than using a pesticide.

Rabbits and deer typically do not feast on daylilies.  The diets of these animals, however, can vary greatly from locale to locale and a starving animal will eat almost anything.  If rabbits and deer do become pests, a number of chemicals are available on the market.  Sometimes these chemicals may be applied to a physical barrier, such as a fence or wall, with positive results. 


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