How to Propagate Daylilies

Daylilies are a rugged perennial that can endure sustained neglect and still grace the gardenscape with beautiful strokes of color. I know because I’ve been a daylily abuser. They do so well in poor soil, harsh weather, bad light, and bone-dry conditions that it’s easy to forget that they can thrive with a little help. With just moderate maintenance the plants will prosper and you’ll realize you want more in your garden. That’s no problem because daylilies are very easy to propagate.

Daylily flowers provide a rainbow spectrum of color that bloom over a long period and the plants offer sizes that vary from small feathery clumps to large, fans of green foliage. Because of these differences in color and size, I’ve found that I occasionally plant with an aesthetic vision in mind but when the plants mature I want to adjust their positions and multiply the plants I especially like. Easy propagation is a godsend in those situations.

An area I'd like to expand

There are only two primary forms of propagating daylilies. The first is by seed. After blooming and pollination, the flowers dry and a small, green seed pod develops at their base. The seed pod will grow over the course of a few months and the seed pods will turn brown as they mature. The brown pods will eventually crack open. Inside will be glossy black seeds. These young seeds need cold exposure to germinate so they should be planted in the fall for natural winter cold or they should be stored in the refrigerator in a plastic bag for about a month. After this cooling period they’re ready to sow outside in spring.

Collecting and sowing seeds from daylilies in your garden is a crapshoot. The daylilies you grow are probably hybrids. They won’t grow true to the parent plant when grown from seed because it is a cross of other varieties. If you have multiple varieties of daylilies in your bed, there is no telling which flower pollinated another. With varied hybrid parents or different hybrid cultivars involved with pollination, the resulting seed will grow into an unknown, future plant.

It can take three years for a seed to germinate and grow into a plant that flowers. After all that time, be ready for a surprise when the plant produces that first bloom. There’s no way to tell what color or size it will be ahead of time, but with so many positive attributes that daylilies offer, it will probably be a nice surprise.

If you don’t plan to save the seeds, remove the seed pods. Plants that produce seeds will usually have fewer flowers the next year. Since one of the reasons you grow daylilies is for the flowers, there’s no reason to intentionally restrict future flowers.

The second form of daylily propagation is division. Large clumps of daylilies can be divided easily and this is the preferred method of propagation when you want your plant to have the same size and color as the parent. It also will produce flowers faster. Each plant grows into a clump that will be ready for division about every three or four years. Undivided plants will begin to produce fewer flowers so you’re doing yourself and the plant a favor by dividing regularly.

A plant ready to divide

Daylilies can be divided in spring or fall. The plants that are divided in spring grow quickly afterward, but they seldom bloom in that first year. Primarily for that reason, I prefer to propagate in the fall. Fall propagated plants will almost always bloom the next year. You should wait until after the plant flowers, but dividing and transplanting the divisions should happen at least six weeks before the ground freezes.

Start by digging up the entire plant. Beginning about six to eight inches away from the plant, push your spade as deep as you can in a circle around the plant. Lift out the plant with the spade, trying to keep the rootball intact. This shouldn’t be too difficult but larger plants may have roots deeper than the hole and can be torn in the process; that’s okay, but try to avoid it.

The clump dug up

Brush or wash away the soil attached to the roots to expose them. Many daylily roots are enlarged and tuberous. This is where the plant stores food and water and enables the divisions to grow well after transplanting. The more roots in the division, the better chance for survival of the transplant.

You’ll be able to see how the fans form distinctive and individual sections where they attach to the roots. Each of these sections can be pulled apart from the others. I find it easiest to begin by lightly shaking the plant and seeing where it begins to separate naturally. Then I gently pull apart the plant into two divisions. Often each of those divisions can be pulled into two or three additional divisions.

Divisions separated

With larger plants and clumps, they may not separate with gentle pulling. You may need to slide two garden forks, back to back, in the middle of the clump and pry it apart. You can do the same with two spades but that causes more damage; garden forks reduce root damage. As soon as the divisions are smaller, they can usually be further divided by hand.

Divisions should have three or four fans with stout roots attached. These will establish more quickly, grow into good clumps, and flower within a year. You can also divide to the point where you have individual fans with just five or six slender leaves. These individual fans can be transplanted with no problems but may take a few seasons before they reach a size where they will begin flowering.

Some old, large clumps may have roots that are so extensive in the center that it is virtually a solid mass. These clumps may need to be cut apart with a garden knife or sharp spade. Try to cut in such a way that you keep the integrity of the individual fans intact.

The divisions should be transplanted soon after digging up so the roots don’t dry out. On each division, cut the leaves so that only five or six inches remain above the crown. This reduces water loss and stress. The crown is the part where the leaves and roots meet and is usually cream colored. Place the plant in the hole with the crown about one inch below the surface level.

Transplanting a division

Daylilies do best in full sun in moist soil with organic matter added. If you can prepare the transplant area ahead of time with organic matter, do it. Adding a high phosphorus fertilizer will help stimulate root growth. If you’re transplanting divisions among other, established plants, as I often do, at least add a handful of compost and fertilizer to the soil in the hole for each plant. Firm the soil around the roots and fill the hole.

After the divisions are in the ground, water thoroughly. Keep the soil moist until the ground freezes. Use a few inches of mulch to moderate soil moisture and temperature levels. Mulch also reduces weeds and highlights the beauty of the plants.

New transplants in place

There is a third propagation method that is available for some varieties of daylily. Miniature plants may grow along the stem, or scape, of some daylilies. This miniature plant will form leaves, a crown, and even roots if left on the plant long enough. These miniature daylilies are called proliferations and are clones of the parent. The proliferations can be potted up or transplanted. Cut the scape above and below the proliferation. If roots haven’t developed, dipping the crown in rooting hormone helps initiate root growth. None of the daylily varieties I grow form proliferations, so I don’t have personal experience with this method.

In time daylilies will form dense mats of plants. By dividing them you can keep the plants under control and looking their best. Propagation is a great way to expand their wonder to other areas. And don’t forget that you may have many gardener friends who would love to have some of your extra divisions.


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