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Daylilies bring true grit, true colors to your garden

During a drought, some gardeners may feel parched for flowers, but don't give up on adding color to your garden just because it's getting hot.

Instead, discover daylilies, the tough beauties that can stand up to a lack of water, even during summer.

I found these treasures almost by accident. It all started when I decided, with a beginner's zeal, to scrape off what was left of my St. Augustine grass and plant only water-wise plants.

Butterfly gardens were all the rage, so I bought a range of plants, including a few simple orange daylilies, which I later learned are called ditch lilies.

It turns out ditch lilies have a bad reputation; some gardeners even call them invasive. Yet while other drought-tolerant plants wasted away, their happy blooms popped up in succession for about six weeks. It was hard to hate them. Instead, I decided they're like any weed: In the right place, they're perfect.

Best of all, they introduced me to their fancier cousins.

I started with a class taught by Linda Sample, a member of the Bay Area Daylily Society. Daylilies come in an array of colors except blue and white, she said, and in a variety of forms: circulars, doubles, flats, ruffles, spiders, stars and trumpets. The scapes, or flower stalks, grow anywhere from 6 inches to more than 3 feet tall, with some producing 10 to 40 flowers. There are more than 50,000 registered cultivars (a single type of daylily), and more are added each year.

As the common name suggests, each bloom on these plants lasts only one day. But the flowers keep coming all summer because there are many flower buds on each stalk, and there are many stalks in each clump of plants. Also, many cultivars have more than one flowering period.

The best part of all: Daylilies like midday Florida sun.

Daylilies offer so many possibilities, in fact, it's just as important to cultivate daylily friends.

Hybridizers and daylily club members keep records of what grows well in their gardens. For instance, Brooksville, Tampa and St. Petersburg are all part of the American Hemerocallis Society Region 12 area, but the climate is slightly different in each area. Some plants do better than others, even within such a narrow range. Generally, in the Tampa Bay area, evergreen or semievergreen varieties grow best.

Plants can range in price from $3 to $500. (Those in the hundreds are generally the newest cultivars.) Daylily friends come in handy here, too, as the plants are easy to divide and share. Many collectors seek out flowers of one type, such as spiders, or a certain color.

"I want color, pure color," says Gloria Hite, a backyard hybridizer. "I also look for a strong scape and a candelabra form that floats, twists and curls."

Several daylily enthusiasts will be on hand to answer questions and help newbies at the Bay Area Daylily Society Annual Spring Flower Show on May 2 in St. Petersburg (see accompanying box). Linda Sample will teach Daylilies 101 at 10 and 11:30 a.m.

You also can learn more at the Bay Area Daylily Society Web site (bads.us/index.htm) and the American Hemerocallis Society site (daylilies.org).

Kyle Pierson is a freelance writer and has been growing daylilies for about four years. She can be reached at kyle@planetpierson.com.

>> IF YOU GO

Bay Area Daylily Society show

Doors are open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. May 2 at First Baptist Church of St. Petersburg, 1900 Gandy Blvd. Admission to the show and plant sale is free; proceeds from the sale are used for community projects and club activities.

Gardeners who don't belong to the society are encouraged to enter their best daylily examples, but only members of the American Hemerocallis Society are eligible for awards.

Daylilies in Paradise

The national convention of the American Hemerocallis Society will be May 20-24 in Lake Mary. For more information, go to ahsregion12.org.

Tips | Growing daylilies

A daylily isn't really a lily. Daylilies grow from roots and crowns, not a bulb. They are actually a monocot, a type of grass.

Daylilies prefer thorough watering at the roots, but they don't like wet feet. Consider using water gel crystals to hold moisture in the soil.

They will do well with a quarter-inch of rainwater, but they will produce more blooms with more water, especially if planted

in full sun.

Use a slow-release fertilizer,

17-3-11.

Milorganite can be used

any time; it's gentle and plants respond well.

Add compost or horse manure

to the soil when you plant.

Daylilies need a soil

pH range of 6.5 to 7.5.

A fungal disease called rust began spreading around 2000. It can be controlled and isn't as harmful as it looks. Other than that, aphids are about the only pests that bother the plants.

Oak leaves are the

best mulch.

Cultivars have different blooming times: early, extra-early, midseason, mid-late season and late season. Some also rebloom later in the season.

Daylilies are edible if they have not been sprayed with pesticides.

Source: Kyle Pierson, special to the Times

Daylilies bring true grit, true colors to your garden 04/24/09 [Last modified: Friday, April 24, 2009 4:30am]

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