Growing day lilies in your garden

Normally I’d scoff at anything that only flowered for a single day. What is the point of going to all the trouble of growing something to find it’s only prepared to share its best with you for 24 hours? But I have had to concede that the day lily is probably going to change my mind.

I would never have planted them, perhaps because they are predominantly my least favourite colour (yellow), but The Partner began a serious affair with them when he discovered that (a) the council was planting them in traffic islands, which testifies to their hardiness, and (b) the flowers’ edges look like frilly knickers.

Now we have a clump of them – mainly yellow – outside my studio and I am mollified by the fact every time I walk past, there are flowers for Africa. So, as long as you plant enough of them, the 24-hour flower thing is not an issue and they certainly look fabulous en masse.

There seems little doubt that day lilies are among the easiest, most adaptable plants for the flower garden. They’ll stand up to quite serious neglect and mine are flowering away like crazy, despite the fact that they’re probably not getting anything they need apart from my apologies and admiration.

Each plant might make 50 or so flowers over several weeks and there’s a whole heap of styles. Some varieties provide single trumpet-shaped flowers, while others are double or ruffled and fringed like the aforementioned knickers.

And the really good news for me is the colour range now includes most shades, except for the blues. Most day lilies have arching foliage that grows to about 50 or 60cm, with colours ranging from pale to dark green with a bluish cast.  They are perennials and there are deciduous, semi-evergreen and evergreen varieties available.

Although they are adaptable to most soils – Lord knows what ours are growing in – day lilies do best in slightly acidic, moist soil that is high in organic matter and well drained. Excessively rich soils may give you more leaves and fewer flowers.

Full sun is best but, having said that, our day lily patch thrives in the shade of a massive kentia palm and doesn’t get a lot of water. Luckily they’re quite drought tolerant once established, although regular watering during budding and flowering will produce better-quality flowers.

And here’s the really good bit – they’re easy to split and propagate. A wee trick when you’re planting either new plants or divisions is to make a small cone of soil in the centre of the hole and put the plant on top, fanning the roots outward and downward.

Work the soil in around the roots and make sure the crown is set no more than 3cm below the soil surface. Put tall cultivars about 75cm apart and smaller ones 50cm apart. When they start to jostle each other for space, wait till late summer or early autumn and divide them up.

Cut into the soil around the plant with a spade and then lift the clump out of the soil with a garden fork. Shake off as much soil as you can and work the roots apart into good-sized clumps of three to four fans each. Replant as soon as possible.

More good news – day lilies are not much bothered by pests and diseases, although aphids and thrips sometimes feed on the flower buds. Dish washing liquid mixed with water in a spray bottle or simply a strong spray of water should solve that. And that will also serve the purpose of cleaning them up before you eat them.

Just about every part of the day lily is edible and it’s said they’re higher in protein and vitamin C than most vegetables. You can add the fresh buds and blossoms to salads (makes a change from nasturtiums) or you can batter and fry them like zucchini flowers.

Dried petals are used in many Chinese recipes, including hot and sour soup. I’m probably not going to do that, because I don’t want to decimate my day lily patch – even if it is mostly yellow.

Get The Australian Woman’s Weekly NZ home delivered!  

Subscribe and save up to 38% on a magazine subscription.

Related stories