By Gail Vanik
Although the weather has begun to cool down, planting season hasn’t ended, and the arrival of cooler temps mean that it’s a great time to plant perennials.
Perennials have risen in popularity enormously in recent years and for good reason. Easy to care for, beautiful and prolific, they are a good choice for the home gardener who doesn’t wish to replant an area annually. One of the very best perennial choices in our area are day lilies and many of them are in full bloom right now.
Day lilies are now the No. 2-selling perennial in North America, second only to hostas. In Greek, the word “hemerocallis” means “beautiful for a day” and that is how they got their name because the blooms generally only last one day.
Although originally from Asia, Day lilies escaped garden cultivation long ago and naturalized so profusely that they now can be found almost anywhere in North America. Many people assume, incorrectly, that they are native to this continent. In China and Japan, day lilies were used as food and for medicine. Sometimes they were dried or pickled in salt or cooked as vegetables. They made their way to Europe early in history, brought by traders along the silk routes from China, and were used medicinally by the Romans as well. Early American Colonists used them in their gardens, and from there they escaped to grow along roadsides and spread throughout the country.
They are great plants for your garden in our area because deer don’t like them. They will grow in sun or part shade and do well in poor soil and under drought conditions. They are tough, persistent, adaptable and have a long life span; therefore, they thrive in the Four Corners. Day lilies are a good filler plant and work well in combination with spring bulbs. Sometimes fragrant, they are also edible right down to their roots! Use in salads, hot and sour soup and other foods, as they add a burst of color to your dining table.
Day lilies can be the heart of the perennial garden, blooming spring through summer, and there are literally hundreds of cultivars mostly in the yellow, pink, orange, red and maroon shades. Because of the large interest in breeding and hybridization, there are dozens of new introductions each year. Plants range from 1 foot to sometimes 6 feet tall. Hardy in Zones 3-9, they are especially well suited to a wide variety of growing conditions and can even be grown in large planters if the soil is kept moist and well fertilized.
Providing a spectacular mass of color in the summer when they are blooming, day lilies are best when planted in masses. The flowers actually follow the sun, so plant your day lilies toward the paths in your garden for easy viewing. This usually means planting them on the north side of a walkway, rather than the southern edge.
One of the hardiest varieties, and one of our favorites, is Stella d’Oro. It also happens to be the best-selling day lily. It is golden yellow in color and is a repeat bloomer. Easy to grow and disease- and pest-resistant, it’s a good choice to begin with if you are just venturing into this type of perennial. It is also an “extender,” which means that the blossoms will stay open for more than 16 hours. Be aware, however, that the red-blossomed types don’t seem to increase as quickly as some of the other colors do, so if you are looking for a quick fill in your garden, another color might be a better choice.
Day lilies increase slowly without being invasive, and this is a highly desirable trait for those of us who are used to having to dig up and split perennials on a regular basis. And once established, they will often outlive those who planted them.
If you’ve been having issues with deer in your yard and eating your carefully selected plants, this is the one thing you definitely should try. Easy to grow, cheerfully blooming through the summer and deer-resistant: What’s not to love?
Gail Vanik can be reached at 970-565-8274 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.