Magazine article Sunset

The New Daylilies

Magazine article Sunset

The New Daylilies

Article excerpt

The hybridizer's challenge has become the gardener's delight. Thanks to plant breeders, daylilies now come in every shade of the rainbow except blue and true green. There are tiny ones, huge ones, double ones, patterned and frilled ones. Each flower lasts only a day, but a stalk usually bears 6 to 10 buds, and plants produce 4 to 50 or more stalks depending on their age and vigor.

Some varieties put on one prolific display each spring. But here in mild-winter areas of the West, growth tends to start early and continue late, allowing many kinds to bloom repeatedly.

In nurseries, gallon-can plants sprout a few lonely bloom stalks that barely hint at this plant's potential. But plunk a dozen of those gawky specimens into good garden soil, and by next spring you should have an impressive display. In as little as three years, you can expect a show comparable to the one at left. Nurseries usually offer six to a dozen choices; most are labeled only by color.

Venture into the catalogs of mail-order specialists and your choices expand to hundreds of kinds, including more complex colors, shapes, and markings such as those shown at lower left. The hitch is that the long lists of letter-coded descriptions can be overwhelming, and there are usually few if any photographs.

But once you get the hang of reading the catalog descriptions, you'll find that they give information you couldn't see in person and a sense of the color that's about as accurate as most catalog photographs. Each variety is labeled by height, bloom size, color, and whether the foliage is evergreen, deciduous, or in between. Some catalogs also tell if the flower is fragrant, tends to bloom repeatedly during the year, or lasts into the next day (this is called extended bloom).

A list of eight Western mail-order specialists follows. By appointment, you can also visit their growing grounds and choose plants in bloom. Peak bloom time varies each year with the weather. In northern California and the Northwest, prime time is usually mid-June into July. In Southern California, bloom peaks in June. After mid-July, ask if enough late 0r reblooming kinds are open to be worth the trip, or plan to visit next spring.

Unless you happen to arrive during a lull, growers usually ship the plants you choose a few weeks later. In hot inland areas, you may want to order now for a better selection; request delivery in fall for planting weather that is less stressful on you and on the daylilies. Prices range from $3 to $5 for most varieties shown here, up to $100 for the rarest and most recent kinds.

Which kinds are best?

If you can't see the flowers in person, a good bet is to choose award-winning varieties that are old enough to have come down to budget prices. Some catalog descriptions include that information.

Most popular are the yellow, gold, and orange hues; there are more of them, and they stand out best in the landscape.

Dark or complex colors are more visible up close. Reds and purples are most risky: in hot, dry weather they have less clarity and are more apt to fade; dark colors also show any water or insect spots more readily. Ask for help in choosing the most sunfast varieties, and give them partial shade, especially during midday heat.

Doubles bloom best in warm, humid weather; in cold or dry conditions, they may open as single trumpets or not at all. …

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