Glance at most any garden this time of year, and chances are the striking color and form of day lilies will grab your eye.

Glance at most any garden this time of year, and chances are the striking color and form of day lilies will grab your eye. Few garden plants offer so many benefits:



Blooms for an extended period
Available in a wide range of color and appearance
Rugged, vigorous and prolific
Adapts to so many locations
Needs so little care and maintenance
Have such climate tolerance
Are affordable

That's quite a compelling list of attributes -- good reasons to take another look at this exceptional group of plants.


Although their flowers look similar, day lilies are not true lilies. Each day lily flower lasts for a single day, a new flower opening each day. The botanical name (Hemerocallis) is derived from the Greek hemera (day) and kallos (beauty). There are multiple flowers on each bloom stalk (called "scapes"), and their flowers are typically showy for 30 days or more. In this region, some cultivars begin flowering as early as early June, some into September, with most peaking during July and August.


Re-blooming types send up additional scapes during the summer, setting new flower buds that bloom again during the summer and autumn. Some of those that re-bloom continue to provide color until they enter winter dormancy after a hard freeze, some seasons into November.


The flowers can be miniature (less than 3 inches in diameter), small (3 to 4-1/2 inches) or large (4-1/2 to 6 inches or larger), depending upon cultivar, and height of flower scapes range from as low as 6 inches to more than 3 feet.


Plant size and foliage appearance also varies from low, compact and delicate, to large and robust. They combine well with other garden plants, and the texture of their foliage can be attractive even when they are out of bloom.


Day lilies are tough plants that establish readily in the garden, and they tolerate conditions that challenge other plants. Planting at the edge of woods or in front of a fence, edging a path, massed together on a steep banking or as a groundcover can be appealing. Facing down large evergreens and shrubs adds color all summer. Repeat blooming types are becoming especially popular in many gardens, and their range of colors and size has expanded with newer introductions from breeders.


All day lilies are extremely resilient, transplanting readily with minimal setback at any time of year.


Day lilies with pastel shades and delicate colors are most attractive in full sun conditions, and they enjoy high temperatures. Darker purple and red flowering cultivars tend to perform better when shaded from full sun during the hottest hours because their deeper colors absorb the heat of the sun.


All day lilies perform best when they get six hours of sunlight, and planting in well-drained, acid soil with a high organic content is recommended. They tolerate occasional dry periods, but are best with evenly moist soil.


So many cultivars are available that recommending which types are best for your garden depends upon your individual preferences. Because they have such an extended season, it's helpful to see what's in bloom every couple of weeks. Public gardens are a great place to enjoy them, especially if they are labeled.


Most garden centers sell day lilies grown in pots, and some nurseries offer field grown clumps. A lot of information is available on the Internet, and the Web site of the American Hemerocallis Society is a fine place to start: www.daylilies.org. And should you become addicted, consider joining with others and become a member of your local day lily group.


R. Wayne Mezitt is the chairman of Weston Nurseries of Hopkinton and a Massachusetts certified horticulturist. He has served as president of the Massachusetts Nursery and Landscape Association, the New England Nursery Association and the American Nursery and Landscape Association, based in Washington, D.C.


MetroWest Daily News