A perfect perennial: Unfussy with a plethora of colors

by Jan Spann

The daylily falls into the oft-maligned category of “old-fashioned flowers,” making it seem less worthy of space in our garden landscape. Overuse of the “Stella d’Oro” variety and the proliferation of the native orange variety have resulted in overlooking the abundance of other varieties that offer outstanding colors and stand up to Arkansas heat and drought conditions. So let’s take a walk in the daylily field.

Daylilies are not true lilies. They belong to the genus Hemerocallis, the Greek word for day (hemera) and kalios (beauty). Most species in this family produce flowers with blooms that last only one day. However, newer varieties have flowers that open in the evening and remain open until the next evening. Many of these night blooming plants are pleasantly fragrant, making these a wonderful option for placement near your deck or patio.

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.

Each daylily provides a profusion of flower buds that will open throughout the summer months and into fall. Each plant blooms for 30 to 40 days in a season. With so many varieties and sizes, you can pop this plant into any sunny spot in your garden. It’s a plant that will spread well, which is a blessing or a curse, depending on the nature of your expectations.

The ruggedness of the daylily makes it easy to plant at almost any time from spring to fall. Dig a hole large enough so the roots will not be bent or crowded, and work the soil well before planting. Add soil amendments like compost or well-rotted manure to bring the soil to a slightly acidic sandy loam. They don’t like wet feet, so make sure this area is well-drained. Daylilies tolerate drought once established.

Most gardeners like to see the blooms to identify what they want in their landscape, so local daylily growers open their fields to buyers in June. You’ll find it hard to choose between the many colors, but choose you must. In addition to color for petals and eyezone (a darker colored area on the petals and just above the throat), your options include ruffled edges, high bud count and bloom size.

More than 35,000 daylilies have been named, officially registered and marketed, and even more are introduced annually through hybridization. That is how growers can develop specific characteristics and color combinations.

Wooster Garden in Faulkner County is a labor of love for Jim Elliott and his wife, Kathy. Jim says his connection to daylilies hit him like a love potion about 20 years ago.

“We had flowers at our place on Round Mountain, and I had been friends and worked for Bob Hambuchen (a Conway grower who has also patented a creeping crape myrtle), but one day I pulled into his place and the beauty of those daylilies had me hooked,” Jim said. “I’m the guy who has to know why, so in digging deeper, I went to Joel Stout (a Conway grower who specialized in daylilies, conifers and Japanese maples before retiring).” Jim pulled weeds, and Stout paid him in flowers.

Ninety percent of what Jim grows are his own design. Growers can cross-pollinate to develop certain colors and features. He spent several years developing the plant habit he wanted, which was to have strong scapes, or “legs,” that will hold the weight of the flowers. “When I got that right, I started putting the pretty faces on them,” he said.

Jim has made friends in other states, and part of his research included sending them some of his cultivars to test how his plants stood up to the cold winters of Ohio or the humidity of Baton Rouge. His plants have passed those tests, and his next step will be to register one of his creations. “All of my plants will have ‘Wooster’ in the name, and the first one I name will be ‘Wooster in the Beginning,’” Jim said. At this stage for a grower, a plant can reach upward of $75, and one prized seedling sold for $200 two years ago.

The average gardener can find plenty of $10 seedlings, which will be a clump of two fans up to six or seven fans, depending on where that variety is in development. It’s the law of supply and demand, and Jim can’t sell all of one type, as it takes a few years for the plant to multiply, which will then reduce the price.

Jim and Kathy open Wooster Garden for public purchases in late May to early June, which is when the flowers begin to bloom. Most gardeners like to see the colors and look for characteristics like ruffled leaves and patterned eyes. You can find their contact information at woostergarden.com. Because he has a full time job as a painter, Jim asks that you call or email him before coming out, to make sure he is at home.

Daylily rust and daylily crown rot are the two problems associated with this plant. You can find out more about symptoms and control by searching “daylily rust” or “daylily crown rot” at uaex.edu.

You can also learn more about this plant at the Arkansas State Daylily Society fall meeting in Conway on Saturday, Sept. 6. It will be at the Country Inn & Suites at 750 Amity Road. The registration fee to become a member is only $5, and with that you will receive newsletters and other info about the organization. You do not have to be a member to attend, and the registration fee is also $5 at the door. You can purchase older daylilies at inexpensive prices or bid on newer daylilies at the auction.

Speaker Nikki Schmith writes the blog agirlandhergarden.com, where she shares photographs and information about the daylily. An Illinois native, Schmith writes for the American Hemerocallis Society magazine, The Journal. She travels extensively, sharing new ways to use a computer and daylilies together. Her day job is a trainer and education specialist with Ford Motor Company.

Sometimes the best plants for our garden are those to which we&r
squo;ve taken a second look. It’s when we realize that maybe what fits is not the exotic or temperamental, but a plant that has a heritage quality — a plant that found a place in our grandmothers’ gardens but now with a hint of new luster. So take another look at the daylily, and like Jim Elliott, maybe it will hit you like a love potion.


A Conway resident, Jan Spann has been gardening for 20-plus years and has been involved with the Faulkner County Master Gardeners for 11 years. She and her husband, Randy, have five children and eight grandchildren.