The Literary Gardener – June 2017

And those whose blossoms curl obliquely back,
Ribbed on the sides with a bright scarlet streak,
Shalt of daylily the fair name receive,
If one whose summer’s day the beauties live…
-Rene Rapin (1621-1687)

It’s true that the beautiful daylily (Hemerocallis) lasts but one summer’s day, prompting Bishop Joseph Hall to once criticize the flower as “the least esteemed.” However, the popularity of this herbaceous bulb plant belies the bishop’s harsh judgment. Indeed, originating in Eurasia, the daylily has been extensively cultivated for centuries and, today, there are more than 60,000 registered cultivars available to gardeners in a plethora of sizes and flower shapes and colors.

Many of these varieties, as well as several new hybrids, are on display in the Demonstration Gardens at the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center, 569 Hanley Road, Central Point. Don’t miss the daylily blooming season, which begins in early June and lasts until the first of August, peaking around the Fourth of July.

For more than a decade, daylily head gardener Marsha Waite and her team of Master Gardener volunteers have been hard at work cross-breeding different daylilies until now there are more than 100 cultivars in the garden. The daylily gardeners have even bred about a dozen daylily cultivars that are nice enough to be registered with the American Hemerocallis Society. The registration process involves sending the best daylily cultivars to AHS regional headquarters where the plants will be observed and sent off to other climate zones to determine how well they grow under different conditions than those in Zone 8 at the Extension.

There are many physical characteristics that make a high-quality daylily. Among them are: how the foliage, called fans, opens and branches, the height of the flower scape, or stalk, the distance between the scape and the inflorescence, the size of the flowers, even the time of day the flowers open. The cultivars are also evaluated on how well they perform during drought periods, how invasive they are, and whether they go dormant in the winter or are evergreen or semi-evergreen.

Daylilies aren’t difficult to grow in Southern Oregon. They are not prone to many insect or disease problems, and don’t require a lot of water. One of the biggest challenges is preventing heat stress. Although they like plenty of sunshine, like tomatoes, daylilies won’t form flowers or set seed in temperatures above 90-degrees F. In fact, heat tolerance is one of the characteristics that Marsha and her garden apprentices have been trying to emphasize among their new hybrids.

In addition, daylilies prefer loamy soil with good drainage. Plant them in the springtime in holes about 18 inches deep. If ground squirrels are a problem, Marsha recommends digging a trench and lining it with hardware cloth before planting the bulbs. Divide daylilies every four to five years in August, and then replant divisions so they have time to establish before the first frost. Protect overwintering daylilies with mulch.

Although individual daylily flowers last only one day, each scape consists of a cluster of flowers that may open at different times, so the plant’s beauty can actually be enjoyed longer. Interestingly, in China and Korea, in addition to its use as food coloring, the daylily is called the “plant of forgetfulness.” The flower buds are added to soup to induce memory loss and, thus, alleviate sorrow. So goes a popular verse: “This lily is Korea’s cure for everybody’s troubles; its leaves as food brings heirs for sure, whenever the kettle bubbles.”

Pictured above: “Waite Legacy” cultivar bred at the OSU Extension Center by Marsha Waite