Daylilies are one of the perennial gardener's staunchest allies. We use them to fill space, to bridge bloom periods and provide background foliage. They are easy to start and simple to propagate. From the few native plants that we see along back roads and highways, hobbyists have hybridized daylilies in hundreds of color combinations and shapes. New hybrids don't have the invasive tendencies of their tawny ancestors but, fortunately for the beginning gardener, are just as easy to start.
Starting from Seed
Put seeds from plants or purchased from daylily growers through a dormant period (called stratification) before they will germinate and grow new plants. Place seeds on a moist paper towel, fold it over and seal it in a plastic bag to keep the seeds moist. Refrigerate the bag in a box or paper sack.
Begin checking for germination after a week---most viable seeds will begin fine, leafy growth within a month. Remove plants as they sprout and place in small pots or paper cups filled with light sterile potting mix. Put plants on a tray of pebbles in a sunny window and mist to keep moist, not wet. By spring, the leaves will be big enough to plant outside.
Cultivate the flowerbed deeply and add a bucket or two of compost, peat moss or well-rotted manure---this nursery bed will not be disturbed for several years until you lift young daylilies to move them to permanent homes. Soil should be well-drained; if your soil is heavy with clay, amend it with extra compost to lighten it; add humus to sandy soil to hold water.
Plant individual plants grown from seed in groups of three or five about 18 inches apart at the same depth they've been growing in the pots. Water well and apply light summer mulch between plants. Water plants deeply several times a week when they get less than an inch of rain.
Weed the nursery bed frequently---baby lilies look like leaves of grass. Once they are established, they will crowd or shade out weeds.
Starting from Divisions
Lift existing plants with a garden fork and pry clumps apart. If you can't convince a neighbor that it's time to divide his stock, you can find plenty of young plants at the garden center. Treat them as divisions.
Trim leaf fans back to about 6 inches to minimize transplant shock and shake off excess dirt so the roots can be spread in their new planting place.
Prepare a nursery bed or place divisions in their permanent homes. To plant adult plants or divisions, dig a hole one and a half times as wide and deep as the plant and line it with amended soil.
Plant divisions up to 2 feet apart (or more, depending on the size of the adult plant), spreading roots around little hills of amended soil. Fill each hole with amended garden soil.
Water plants well several times a week for a total of an inch a week (including rain). Do not allow weeds to get established. Well-established daylilies will crowd weeds out but when they are young, they can use some help.
About this Author
Chicago native Laura Reynolds has been writing for 40 years. She attended American University (D.C.), Northern Illinois University and University of Illinois Chicago and has a B.S. in communications (theater). Originally a secondary school communications and history teacher, she's written one book and edited several others. She has 30 years of experience as a local official, including service as a municipal judge.