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Daylilies

Quick facts

  • Daylilies are rugged, adaptable, vigorous perennials that endure in a garden for many years with little or no care.
  • Daylilies adapt to a wide range of soil and light conditions.
  • They establish quickly, grow vigorously, and survive winters with little or no injury.
  • Daylilies are useful in the perennial flower border, as a backdrop to other plants or as a ground cover on slopes, where they form a dense mass in just a few years.
  • Daylilies may grown from 1 to 4 feet high.
  • Do not plant them directly under trees and shrubs as they will compete for water and nutrients.
Many pink-orange flowers in a garden bed with long narrow leaves in the background.
Daylilies produce numerous flower buds that are showy over a long period (H. ‘May Colvin’)

Growing daylilies in Minnesota

Daylilies belong to the genus Hemerocallis and are not true lilies. This Greek word is made up of two parts: hemera meaning day and kallos meaning beauty. The name is appropriate, since each flower lasts only one day.

Some of the newer varieties have flowers that open in the evening and remain open until the evening of the following day. Many of these night blooming plants are delightfully fragrant.

Daylilies typically grow one to four feet high. Each daylily plant produces an abundance of flower buds that open over a long period of time. There are many varieties, a wide range of flower colors, and the flowers continue blooming during the heat of the summer.

Bright yellow flowers with long narrow green leaves in a brick-lined garden bed with an evergreen shrub in the background.
Daylilies are hardy perennials that grow well in Minnesota. (H. ‘Happy returns’)

Site and soil

  • Best in full sun, but will tolerate light shade

  • They flower best with a minimum of 6 hours of direct sun

  • Light shade during the hottest part of the day keeps the flowers fresh

  • Should not be planted near trees and shrubs that compete for moisture and nutrients

  • Adaptable to most soils, but do best in a slightly acidic, moist soil that is high in organic matter and well drained

  • A soil test every 3 to 5 years is helpful in determining the need for soil amendments and fertilizer

Planting

Daylilies can be planted as soon as the garden soil can be worked.

  1. Till the soil deeply before planting or use a garden fork to break up the soil.

  2. Work in well-rotted manure or compost to increase organic matter.

  3. Incorporate a balanced, slow-release fertilizer labeled for perennial flowers.

  4. Dig a hole wide enough for the roots to spread out without bending or crowding them.

  5. Place the plant in the soil so the crown (the portion where the stem and root meets) is one inch below the ground line. If needed, add soil back into the hole to lift the plant up.

  6. Once the plant is at the right level, back-fill with the garden soil, lightly packing it down around the plant.

  7. Water until the soil around the plant is thoroughly saturated. Not only does watering hydrate the plant, but it also settles the soil around the roots creating a good growing environment.

How to choose daylilies

There are more than 35,000 registered daylily cultivated varieties (cultivars) on the market today. Many newly developed plants are introduced annually. Specialty nurseries can carry thousands of different daylily cultivars.

Varieties that grow best in Minnesota are bred for their ability to withstand our cooler temperatures, as well as for their color and general beauty.

Some of the newest varieties are very expensive because they are not widely available. But you can find many beautiful varieties at reasonable prices.

The selection criteria below give details on different varieties and reasons you might choose one over another depending on type of leaves, when and how often flowers bloom, color and shape, and how hardy a plant is for Minnesota.

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How to care for daylilies

Pink and yellow flower with narrow dark green leaves
H. ‘Surprisingly pink’
  • In early spring, before growth starts, remove the dead leaves from the previous year's growth and pull any weeds.

  • Mulch to help minimize weeding. Perennial grasses can be difficult to get rid of if they become established within the clumps.

  • Keep soil moist — 1 inch of water weekly is ideal, more frequent watering may be necessary on sandy soils.

    • Daylilies tolerate drought, but they perform best in moist, but well-drained soils.

  • Remove dead flowers after bloom to prevent seed production. This is called "deadheading." Plants that produce seeds are likely to have fewer flowers the following year.

  • Insect control measures usually are not necessary.

    • Aphids and thrips sometimes feed on the flower buds. These pests can be controlled with insecticidal soaps or a repeated strong spray of water.

  • Annual fertilization may be helpful in producing more flowers. A spring application of manure or compost is beneficial each year.

Transplanting and dividing

A purple flower with a yellow center in front of narrow dark green leaves and lawn in the background
H. 'Prairie Blue Eyes'

The best time to transplant or divide plants is early spring or immediately after flowering. Division promotes more flowers, but plants divided in the spring may not bloom the same summer.

Daylilies are vigorous growers and can be divided every three to five years. Divisions should have two to three stems or “fans” of leaves with all roots attached.

  1. Make divisions by digging up the entire plant and gently pulling the fans apart.

  2. Cut the foliage back, leaving only 5 or 6 inches.

  3. Place the plant in the soil so the crown (the portion where the stem and root meets) is 1 inch below the ground line. If needed, add soil back into the hole to lift the plant.

  4. Water thoroughly after planting.

  5. A winter mulch of straw or shredded leaves helps ensure against winter injury for unestablished plants.

Mary H. Meyer, Extension horticulturalist; Julie Weisenhorn, Extension educator; Norman Baker, Northstar Nurseries; and Julius Wadekamper 

Reviewed in 2018

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