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The Perfect Perennial

By Paul James

Tough as nails. Thrives on neglect. Carefree and low maintenance. I’ve used those phrases to describe a number of plants, from sedums to ornamental grasses to daffodils. But at the end of the day, daylilies deserve the top spot, so much so that they’ve been called the perfect perennial. And in gardens all across Green Country, they look amazing right now.

Daylilies are in the genus Hemerocallis, which translates from the Greek to “day beautiful,” referring to the fact that daylily flowers only last one day. And that’s true. But they produce so many flowers that their bloom period lasts up to five weeks. Plus, there are early-, mid-, and late-season bloomers — as well as rebloomers — so with careful planning you can enjoy daylily blooms all summer long, even up to the first frost. And that’s great news to butterflies and hummingbirds, who adore their juicy nectar.

Back in the day, my grandmother had the familiar orange daylilies growing along a fenceline. They were called Tiger Daylilies, not to be confused with the unrelated Tiger Lily, which is a different plant altogether. My first planting — back in the 70s — was the classic yellow ‘Hyperion,’ which is still available today. But hybridizers have developed hundreds of new varieties in the past few decades, replete with ruffles, watermarks, halos, picotee edges, as well as splashy color combinations.

And while their flowers steal the show, I love their grasslike foliage as well, which emerges in early spring, long before the flowers arrive, and forms dense clumps that choke out weeds. One especially clever way to use daylilies is to combine them with daffodils, because just as the daffodil foliage begins to fade, the daylily foliage emerges to cover the unsightly, browning leaves. The combination also allows you to enjoy colorful flowers from early spring through summer in the same area.

Most sources will tell you that daylilies should be grown in full sun, and in well-drained soils that are rich in organic matter. And while I don’t disagree, I’ve grown them successfully in moisture-retaining clay soil (and rocky and sandy soil), and I believe their flowers resist fading when they get afternoon shade in our part of the world. I’ve also had great success growing them in pots. 

If you’re new to gardening, I can’t think of a better plant to add to your garden to boost your confidence as a gardener. They truly are tough as nails. They thrive on neglect. And they’re definitely carefree and low maintenance. 

Coincidentally, that’s exactly how my wife describes me. 

Happy gardening, ya’ll.

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