Daylilies are a staple perennial for area flower gardens. They are easy to grow, bloom over a fairly lengthy period, adapt to a variety of soil conditions, require low maintenance, and tolerate drought and our extreme Middle Georgia temperatures. Thanks to modern hybridizers, daylily cultivars have come a long way from the naturalized orange ditch lilies that grow along roadsides. They now come in a variety of shapes and sizes. The color palette includes red, pale yellow, pink, lavender, peach, burgundy and interesting color combinations. With their clumps of tall, grass-like foliage, they contribute texture and line to the landscape, even when not in bloom.
As the high levels of summer heat have backed off and fall is in the air, now is the best time to plant daylilies. Since moderate soil temperatures favor root development, plants are able to establish more quickly this time of year.
Daylilies grow best in direct sun or light shade. They prefer slightly acid (pH 6 to 6.5), well-drained soil with plenty of organic matter. If drainage is a problem, elevate the bed above ground level. Dig individual holes several inches wider than the root system and at least 12 inches deep. Set the plants 18 to 24 inches apart so that the crown, the point where roots and foliage meet, is no deeper than 1 inch below the surface of the soil.
Water plants thoroughly after planting, and continue to deep-soak them at least weekly (depending on soil type -- more often with sandy soils, less often with clay) until established. Although daylilies are drought-tolerant once established, consistent watering while budding and flowering produces better quality flowers.
Wait to fertilize the plants until early spring, just as the new growth begins. Although they will grow adequately without fertilizer, daylilies respond best when lightly fertilized with analyses such as 5-10-15 and 6-12-12, which supply moderate nitrogen and higher rates of phosphorous and potash.
If you already have daylilies in your landscape, you may have noticed that the foliage has become too densely clumped and flowering was diminished this year. If so, it may be time to divide them. Plants should be divided sometime after flowering and by early fall so that the plants can reestablish before winter. Not only will the plants benefit, you may have excess plants you can pass on to friends or use to brighten a new area of the landscape.
Begin by using a garden fork to lift the clump from the ground. Place the fork in the ground 6 to 12 inches away from the base of the plant and gently push down on the handle to pry the clump up and out of the soil. Work around the root ball, repeating this process until the roots are freed. To separate a clump into individual fans (sections with a set of roots and leaves), shake off excess soil; wash the rest of the soil from the roots; then work the roots of individual fans apart. Before re-planting, cut the foliage back to 8 to 10 inches in length. Most daylily varieties may be left to grow for a period of four or five years before they will need to be divided again.
So, take a little time now to divide and plant daylilies -- and look forward to the reward of their colorful beauty in next summers landscape. No matter what kind of plant interests you, check out the Master Gardener plant sale next weekend (see details below). Proceeds used to support local community projects in Middle Georgia counties.
Master Gardeners of Central Georgia Fall Garden Plant Sale: 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Sept. 21 and 8 a.m.-3 p.m. Sept. 22 from at the Macon State Farmers Market. Master Gardeners also will be available to answer gardening questions. Free admission and parking. For more information, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call (478) 751-6338.