Bring summer color alive with daylilies


It will soon officially be summer, and most gardeners are reaping the benefits of spring plantings, especially bulbs. Gladiolus, cannas, gloxinias, tuberous begonias, callas, caladiums and daylilies are some of the many types making a show. Technically, daylilies are not true lilies, nor do they have true bulbs. They are clumping perennials with fleshy roots and are therefore grown much the way true bulbous plants are grown.

Although flowering bulbs and bulb-like perennials vary in their requirements, there are several basic cultural factors to keep in mind. In general, most grow best in a well-drained soil and a sunny location. The pH of the soil should run between 5.8 and 6.5. Most bulbs and daylilies should be fertilized with a low-nitrogen fertilizer. If you keep these factors in mind, you should be able to produce excellent plants and flowers. An exception to the low-nitrogen rule is in growing calla lilies. This relative of taro prefers a rich soil with plenty of water and fertilizer.

Back in the old days, the only daylilies you could find were the yellow and orange types. Today’s hybrids come in every color imaginable from off-white through yellow, melon, pink, red to mauve and orchid. Clusters of 30 flowers make a striking show especially since some varieties may be several inches across. Some of these spectacular hybrids have names like Mango Time, Aloha Kiss, Hawaiian Empress and Hawaiian Nights.

The botanical name for daylily is Hemerocallis, which means beauty for a day because the funnel shaped flower opens in the morning and closes in the evening, never to reopen. Fortunately, the clumps keep producing so you may have flowers much of the year depending on variety.

Daylilies come from Asia and have been a major garden plant in China for more than 4,000 years. The plants were thought to benefit the mind and strengthen willpower. The flowers are edible and are used to flavor foods.

In Hawaii, daylilies can be grown almost anywhere from sea level to over 6,000 feet but do best in sunny locations. They can be planted any time of year. Depending on the variety or hybrid grown, and location, they will flower intermittently throughout the year.

The daylily is like most folks after the holidays — it must watch its diet. It flourishes in poor soils and will not bloom with too much food.

Here are a few tips to help your plants do their best. First, don’t tempt them with rich foods. Nitrogen-packed fertilizer makes the plant fat and green with few blooms. Like many other bulb-like plants, daylilies bloom best when fed a miserly amount of a low-nitrogen fertilizer. If the plants grow rampant on little or no food, try planting them in less-fertile soil next time. Rationing water tends to produce more flowers.

Plants started now could put on a flower show in six to eight weeks. Select a fairly sunny spot for your daylily bed; too much shade will minimize flowering.

Although the common oranges and yellows are rewarding, where available, try the hybrids. With reasonable care they will give you bigger and better blooms. Avoid ordering the hardy types from mainland catalogs. These are bred for cold climates and not do well under tropical conditions.

For more information about the culture of daylilies and bulbs, ask at your local garden shop or nursery. Several gardening books are also available on the subject.

This information is supplied by the University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources.