It is officially spring; a time of rebirth and optimism. Gladiolus, amaryllis, cannas, gloxinias, tuberous begonias, callas, caladiums, clivia and day lilies are making a show. A visit to your favorite garden center or nursery can be a real treat with all the bulbs available now.
Day lilies are an old favorite on the mainland, China and Japan. They are becoming more popular on the Big Island. Technically, day lilies are not 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 day lilies should be fertilized with a low-nitrogen fertilizer according to instructions on the label. If you keep these factors in mind, you should be able to produce excellent plants and flowers. An exception to the rule is in growing calla lilies. This relative of taro prefers rich soil with plenty of water and fertilizer.
Energetic gardeners can have some species flowering every month of the year. Let’s concentrate on day lilies.
Back in the old days, about all you could find were the yellow and orange types. Today, thanks to folks like Rachel Leyva of Big Island Daylily Co., we have a fantastic variety of wonderful colors from which to choose. The new hybrids come in every color imaginable from off-white through yellow, melon, pink, red to mauve and orchid. Clusters of up to 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 day lily 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 just keep producing so you may have flowers much of the year, depending on variety.
Day lilies 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, day lilies can be grown almost anywhere from sea level to more than 6,000 feet. They can be planted any time. Depending on the variety or hybrid, and location, they will flower intermittently throughout the year.
The day lily is like most folks after the holidays — it must watch its diet. Too much food and the plant will not bloom, so it flourishes in poor soils. Here are a few tips to help your plants do their best:
First of all, 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, day lilies 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 will tend 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 day lily bed because too much shade will minimize flowering.
Oranges and yellows are rewarding, but try the hybrids, where available. 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 do not thrive under tropical conditions.
For more information about day lilies and bulbs, visit your local garden shop or nursery. Several gardening books are also available on the subject, including “Growing Daylilies A Picture Guide” by Leyva (lavalilies.com).
This information is supplied by the University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources.