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How to Prune Daylilies

By Laura Reynolds ; Updated September 21, 2017
Day lilies need little pruning.

Pruning day lilies is a misnomer. One may tidy up a day lily but changing its shape or growth habits by cutting off “dead or living parts or branches” would be an exercise in futility. Unlike roses and other herbaceous perennials that we prune, hemerocallis forms a fountain of graceful, grass-like leaves by its own genetics with no outside intervention. There are several maintenance techniques, however, that will help day lilies look fresh and vital throughout the season.

Keep up with blooms. Day lily blooms line up on the end of "scapes" where they bloom, one at a time, over a succession of days. Depending on when each scape begins blooming, this period of bloom can last as long as a month. Some day lilies produce second and even third groups of scapes. The challenge is to keep up with the blooms, removing old ones as they fade.

Remove spent scapes. Once all the buds have opened on a scape, it will produce no more. Cut the scape close to its base and remove it. If you are a day lily hobbyist, avoid removing scapes that have formed seed pods and allow the entire scape to dry in place before removing the pod.

Pull or cut out dead leaves. Beginning in late summer, many day lilies begin to go dormant. Their long, grass-like leaves will dry out, beginning with the oldest leaves at the bottom around the outside of the mound of foliage. These leaves can be cut out to tidy up the plant. They will pull out easily when the leaf is completely dead. All the leaves should be removed in late fall during garden clean-up to deny local rodents a winter home.

Divide overgrown specimens. Division is really a form of propagation, not pruning, but it’s your only choice for plants that threaten to outgrow their space, particularly aggressive growers like “Kwanso” which can grow as large as 6 feet around with 4 foot tall scapes. Divide clumps with a garden fork or sharp knife.

 

Things You Will Need

  • Day lilies
  • Garden spade or fork
  • Sharp knife
  • Kitchen shears
  • Pruning shears
  • Carry basket or garden cart

Tips

  • Propagate day lilies in the autumn in any growing zone but gardeners in colder climates may find spring divisions more dependable. Many spring-planted hemerocallis will bloom the same season if they are planted early enough.
  • Day lily varieties vary in cultural requirements. Shade-loving varieties that are planted in hot, sunny areas will need more tending than they would if planted according to their preference.

Warnings

  • Don't pull dried leaves until they can be easily tugged free-you can pull young plants out of the ground or damage crowns on older ones.
  • Don't try to "prune" a huge day lily like Kwanso to fit a small space-buy one of the Stella d'Oro "sports" or other smaller varieties to fit the space comfortably.

About the Author

 

An avid perennial gardener and old house owner, Laura Reynolds has had careers in teaching and juvenile justice. A retired municipal judgem Reynolds holds a degree in communications from Northern Illinois University. Her six children and stepchildren served as subjects of editorials during her tenure as a local newspaper editor.