Posts Tagged ‘daylilies’

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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Fill Gaps in the Garden

When your garden is at or close to its growth pinnacle, enjoy the impressive visuals and reward yourself for a job well done. Also take advantage of the opportunity to identify obvious bare spots that you prefer were filled.

There are a number of different approaches to gardening and I subscribe to many of them. In some areas I strive for simplicity and intentionally grow individual plants, well spaced, to accent there presence; my fruit trees fall into this category as they become focal points in various parts of the landscape. In other beds I hope for a mass effect with an explosion of different colors, textures, shapes, and sizes. In some gardens, particularly new ones like mine, it takes awhile before that goal to be reached.

At the peak of the season before plants begin their decline in fall, take the time to analyze your garden beds to determine if they’re meeting your expectations. Take pictures. View them from all angles. Be critical of your own design. Identify what you like. Make decisions about what you want to change.

I’m using this time to note specific gaps and holes in my beds that need to be filled with new plants. When I first planted my beds last year I had a plan and placed plants accordingly. Not everything grew as expected. Some died during the harsh winter. Some turned out better than anticipated. Overall, I’m pleased with the results, but there is always room for improvement.

In one bed friends helped me plant dozens of daylilies. Only a portion have made it this far, due primarily to poor stock from the online source and poor storage methods before planting, by me. Most of the plants that survived are doing well, but there aren’t as many as I’d like. An analysis of the site shows gaps that I want filled.

Lots of space between daylilies

Originally I intended the bed to be overflowing with daylilies. The bare spaces between plants now offer me other options. I can plant more daylilies to achieve the original plan, or I can mix it up with something different. The bright yellow Heliopsis nearby is doing great; it’s taller than the daylilies but maybe I can plant more of it as a backdrop. The Yarrow at the edge is doing great too; maybe I can add a few of those plants interspersed with the daylilies to create contrast. I can change my original plan easily.

Across the yard I have two daisy clumps that are doing amazingly well. They’re a Shasta Daisy variety that overwintered fine while the many echinacea and snapdragons that were planted in the same bed last year failed to return. Obviously the daisies like that spot so I’ll reward them by expanding their presence. I’m also thinking of adding other flowers from the same family like Aster, Chrysanthemum, and Calendula; I have a few mums and marigolds in other areas and may move them there.

Daisies looking good

In another bed my lilies are looking good too. Many of the bulbs we planted didn’t grow; same online source, same storage issues. I still want that bed to be filled with lilies so I’ll focus energy in that direction and plant more. I’ll pick up some end-of-season bargains at the nurseries and get them in the ground soon. I’ll also plant next spring. By seeing the gaps in the bed it makes me want to fill them with many more plants.

Plenty of room for more lilies

Another approach in each bed is to leave things alone. Most flowering plants will fill in over time. Daylilies and Daisies can grow quite large in big clumps. A bare space now may provide ample room for them to grow larger later. Other flowers self-sow and spread quickly. I’ve set the stage for the beds and letting them determine their own growth patterns is definitely an option. In one of my beds red Knautia is spreading rapidly, filling in open space, adding vibrant color to the area; I like the way it looks.

Gardening is a process. Planting according to a plan and then never returning to that plan may work for some people, but not for me and many other gardeners. While letting the flowers in a bed determine their own destiny may be an intentional option for now, without oversight and continual analysis a few plants can overrun and choke out the others, undermining overall intentions. I still like order and want my beds to fulfill certain visions I have for them.

Once you’ve identified an area that deserves new plants determine the best time for action. Not all plants should be planted in the fall after you’ve decided to fill in spaces. Spring may be a better time. Sure you have to wait six months or so before acting, but you give the specific plants a better chance at survival. Marking the locations for new plants becomes important.

Whether planting right after your analysis or waiting until spring, use the photos you took (you did take photos didn’t you?) as a template. Print the photo and actually draw the new plant on it. It helps to give perspective of how a new plant will look and acts as a treasure map if you have to wait through winter before planting. In spring you pull out the photo, observe where the established plants are in the photo, look for their new green growth in the garden bed, and put new plants in the appropriate spot marked on your map.

Whether changing a plan by adding different plants, expanding a bed with new plants, multiplying the plants already in place, or letting things spread out naturally, by pausing to determine the best course of action you will ultimately improve how your garden looks and how you feel about it. It’s often difficult to determine how a garden bed will look in the future and we often choose the wrong time to try and figure that out. When the other plants have reached their peak, it’s usually a good time. So look for the gaps and bare spots and decide if you want to do something.