Posts Tagged ‘propagating’

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.


Propagating Groundcovers

Growing groundcovers adds color and texture to your garden, at foot level. Propagating groundcovers is an easy way to increase their coverage. While I have some groundcovers interspersed among my flowers and will plant some as green manure in my vergetable beds, my favorite location for the versatile plants is in and among the paths and stone walkways in my landscape and as accent borders. Being a frugal gardener, I take advantage of their easy-going, easy-growing nature to add them to new areas at no additional cost.


Groundcover and beauty

A groundcover is a plant that grows close to the ground en masse. They can be grown as an erosion control, as a mulch to help shade soil for other plants, or purely for their aesthetic value. I parlay those benefits into a perfect carpet to walk upon in garden pathways and at the edge of small slopes. Some of my garden paths are better suited for pine needles, or bark, or gravel, but for grand appearance few of those options match the appeal of groundcovers. They provide a wonderful visual and physical transition between different yard and garden spots.

Some of my favorite groundcovers are periwinkle, thyme, sedum, and veronica. I know that sounds quite broad, particularly when veronica offers almost 500 species alone, but it’s intended to suggest that there are groundcovers for all landscapes and regions in all sizes, shapes, and colors. I use periwinkle, or vinca minor, to smother weeds at the base of my irises; I love the little violet flowers and almost evergreen foliage. Thymus lanuginosus, or woolly thyme, and sedum anglicum surround the flagstones leading into my backyard; they help keep the slight slope from eroding, require little water, and look spectacular, especially when their little flowers bloom. Veronica pectinata, or blue woolly speedwell, is a new addition along the sloped edges of my stone patio.

Thyme and sedum around the stones

All of these groundcovers are very easy to grow and propagate. In most cases a simple cutting is all that’s needed to start a plant growing in a new location. I prefer to get a jumpstart on the process by transplanting larger pieces of plants.

As most of these groundcovers grow, they’ll add little roots along their expanding branches. Where a small stem, branch, or leaf touches the soil a root may develop. This helps the plant gain a larger foothold for increased growth and nutrient absorption.

By lifting up on the edge of an established plant and pulling back the branches and leaves you’ll get to the spot where young roots have started anchoring new growth to the soil. With very little effort you can dig up a section of the plant and transplant it to a new location. The mother plant will continue to grow and send out new branches to cover the bare spot. The transplanted piece will begin growing soon because it already has roots in place. This saves time from taking a clipping and waiting for roots to develop.

I begin by determining what plant should be added to which new spot. In my stone walkway I intersperse thyme and sedum, but along the edge of my patio I’m focusing on Veronica pectinata, a plant first given me by my good friend Della. She has it covering a large, steep slope in her landscape where it presents a beautiful sea of green. The section I’m planting is smaller and not as steep, but I want the same seemless coverage the plant provides.

The mother plants of veronica

A mother plant is selected, one that is healthy and large enough to handle losing some of its growth. I lift up on the edges until I find a spot that is full of healthy, young growth and abundant roots.

Roots under the plant

With a trowel I’ll dig under the plant to access some of the older roots too and lift out a section of the plant, with soil included. With my other hand I’ll gently separate the main plant from the removed piece. The branches and leaves of groundcovers often intertwine and you have to be careful not to crudely rip apart tender foliage.

Removing the plant section

The whole section is now ready for transplant to a new hole. Setting the piece into the ground and covering the roots with soil gets it ready for new growth. I’ll also add extra soil on top of some of the branches near their tips. The increased soil contact should stimulate root growth in those areas, improving the plant’s development. I’ll also add soil back to the base of the mother plant to cover any exposed roots. A thorough watering of both plants completes the procedure.

By selectively removing pieces of strong plants and moving them to new spots, an even larger area can be covered. Both old plants and new plants will grow and spread and will eventually meet. The process can be continued indefinitely. I’m patiently waiting for my patio border to fill in and expect the entire area to be covered within two years.

The coverage area is multiplied

Groundcovers are so easy to propagate that you may not need to buy any and still fill your landscape. Many of my gardener friends have cuttings and whole plants ready to give away in the spring when they clean their beds for the new season. It only takes one plant to lay the foundation for a much larger population of groundcover and you can probably find someone to give you that gift.

I tend to do much of my propagating in late summer. The heat and stress of the summer peak is over and the mother plants are as strong as they’ll be. I can also see the bare spots that still need to be filled. Setting new transplants in place gives all of them opportunity to grow roots before winter sets in. Depending on their hardiness, I know I’ll lose some over the cold months but when spring comes I’ll have an increased number of plants beginning to grow. By the end of next summer, some of the transplants will be big enough to offer themselves for more propagation.

As with all plants, groundcovers do best when planted in the proper location. Once the right plant is in the right spot it will grow strong. Take advantage of that and let it spread with a little of your propagating knowledge.