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Reasons to appreciate just how easy daylilies are

Of all the plants we grow primarily for their colorful blooms, daylilies are the easiest in my humble opinion.

My roses take some maintenance. The irises are as tough as the daylilies, but some of the iris species will move around too much. I have to retrieve them from over there and over there, sort of like cows getting out the fences.

But for me, daylilies once planted are trouble-free for years. I don’t know why deer leave mine alone: they just do.

About 15 years ago we got introduced to the fungal disease daylily rust. Maybe that’s why I had a few varieties fade out, but most of mine have bloomed every year without a dose of rust medicine, i.e. fungicide. Okay, so my daylilies are overdue a thinning, but that’s not a yearly thing.

Daylilies came from Asia and are often called by their genus name Hemerocalis, which is the Greek language rendition of “beautiful for a day.”

In the wild, daylilies reproduced both by seeds and by underground fleshy roots called tubers. There are no such things as daylily bulbs. Think sweet potato, not tulip when looking for a comparison for the part we dig and plant.

With thousands of hybridized modern varieties created, dividing existing clumps is the only way to multiply daylilies and get the same bloom color and shape, plant height and other genetic characteristics. It’s that way with most all our modern perennials.

To get replicas, we depend on non-pollination methods like grafting, stem rooting, layering and clump division. They are all types of cloning. Some of the older and tougher daylilies will produce lots of seeds on their own. The resulting offspring is usually so much like the parent that they look the same.

I have heard folks claim some of their daylilies eventually reverted to the old orange ones. Well, no daylily plant “reverted” to anything. What happened was the nearby “old orange ones” produced so many seeds that came up the newer variety, they got overwhelmed and crowded out.

As with all garden plant species, daylily seed production is still necessary for mankind to create new varieties. Hybridizing daylilies is somewhat of a popular hobby from Texas to the Carolinas.

There have been quite a few successful daylily breeders in Mississippi, “hybridizers” and “breeders” meaning the same.

Some gardeners go about it very basically by shaking pollen from one plant onto the bloom of another and waiting to see if seeds are produced.

At the top of the daylily business, hybridizers use a computer program to keep up with which varieties have recently dominated for creating the newest color combinations, petal sizes, shapes, bends and curves and “shark teeth” edges.

These breeders pay attention to the time of day and temperature to carefully collect pollen from one plant to freeze for later placement on another specific plant’s stigma when a bloom opens.

It might not be rocket science, but creating new daylily varieties is a lot more tedious than my level of gardening allows.


Terry Rector writes for the Warren County Soil and Water Conservation District.