How To Plant Daylilies In An Edible Garden

Learning how to plant daylilies is a smart way to add color to your edible landscape.

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Daylily plant with red flowers

Daylilies are hardy to USDA zone 1, perennial, grow vigorously in most soils, are gorgeous, fairly resistant to disease, and come in a variety of colors. Plus, they're edible!

Daylilies are not true lilies -- people confuse the two because of their similar common names. The way to tell is to look at the scientific name: all true lilies are of the Lilium species, where daylilies are of the Hemerocalis species.

How to plant daylilies: quick facts

  • Plant type: Perennial
  • Plant size: 8-40 inches high, depending on variety
  • Easiest way to plant: buy plants of the variety you want
  • Propagate by: dividing and transplanting
  • Edible parts: All parts are edible
  • Fruit color: n/a, seed pods are green
  • Flower color(s): All colors except pure black, blue, green or white (apparently people have tried very hard to breed blue daylilies!)
  • Flower size: 3-14 inches in diameter depending on variety
  • Flower type: Trumpet-shaped
  • Blooms: mid-spring to mid-summer; each blossom lasts one day only
  • Leaf color(s): medium green
  • Leaf type: slender and tapering (resemble grass leaves), about 12-24 inches long. The tips bend down at the ends to give a fountain-like effect
  • Stem color: yellow-green to grass green, depending on variety
  • USDA zones: 1-13
  • Likes: Moist, rich soil
  • Tolerates: Partial shade, will grow in all soils and pH levels
  • Dislikes: Severe drought, soggy soil, excessive heat
  • Uses: Flowering bedding plant, edging for walkways and driveways. Tall daylilies can be used as divider hedges or a centerpiece in a round or oval plot. Dwarf daylilies are useful for ground cover and as an edible substitute for decorative grasses.

Daylilies bloom by sending up a flower stalk (called a scape) with multiple blossoms on it. The bloom lasts only a day (hence the name), but some varieties (called reblooming daylilies) will send up more flower stalks after the first ones have died back.

You'll see the terms diploid and tetraploid when you're researching daylily varieties. This refers to the amount of DNA in the plant. Diploid means that the variety has 22 chromosomes, while tetraploid has 44. Some people have strong opinions about which is better -- my take on it is to buy the daylily plants that you like the look and taste of.

All parts of the day lily are edible: the leaves, buds, flowers, even the roots! It has been used in Chinese cuisine for generations (hot and sour soup, anyone?)

The buds and blossoms are the sweetest part of the plant and can be eaten raw or cooked. Daylily flowers and seed pods can be battered and fried. The roots are crisp and can be eaten raw, or cooked like potatoes. Young leaves taste like lettuce, and are good in salads.

Some people are allergic to daylilies, and in some they cause intestinal upset (notably stomach pain and diarrhea), so try a piece before buying a whole truckload.

Try a Chinese daylily recipe!

Specifics on how to plant daylilies

Daylily from my edible garden

You can plant daylilies from seed but it's recommended to buy daylily plants as it can take up to two years to see a bloom when planting daylily seeds. You can find daylilies on sale at most plant nurseries or you can buy daylilies online.

How to plant daylilies:

Daylily plants can go in the ground anytime from early spring to late summer, although not within 6 weeks of the first frost date. The earlier in the year you plant daylilies, the better the chance of getting daylily flowers that year.

Pick a spot that gets at least 6 hours of sun a day to do your planting. Daylilies will tolerate shade (especially dark-colored flowers in hot climates) but the more sun, the more flowers you'll get. They don't seem to care about soil type or pH, so they're good for areas that are rocky or have heavy clay.

Transplanting daylilies onto areas where the soil tends to erode is especially good because their roots hold soil in place as well as discourage weeds. It's rare to see weeds in an established daylily bed for this reason.

If you buy daylily plants, put them in the ground at the same level they were in the pot. Bare-root daylilies should be planted 1 inch above the crown (where the leaves and roots meet). Remember that the plants will double or triple in size from year to year, so allow at least 2 feet between plants.

Daylilies like to be watered about an inch a week, but let the soil dry out before watering. If you'd like, a high nitrogen organic fertilizer like rotted manure is good to add in the early spring to stimulate leaf growth, but it isn't required.

Once your daylily blooms, the flowers die and a seed pod forms. Experts recommend that you remove the seed pod to keep the plant from putting energy into making seeds. If you save the seeds, the flower you get won't be the same as the parent. The best way to propagate daylilies is to divide them in the early fall.

Daylily plants don't need protection in the winter in most areas. In areas that fall below freezing, you might want to mulch the plants in the fall for their first winter, especially if you don't get much snow cover. The leaves will die back in the winter and return again in the spring.

Your daylilies will send up two to three times more fans (daylily plants) than it did last year, each producing their own scapes and sets of blooms. Once you learn how to plant daylilies and get some established, you should never have to buy more again!

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