Share tips from your outdoor or indoor plant experience, give us a tour of your plant site, or just let us know what you enjoy most about the plants and people who grow them. Contact news@yankton.net Attn: Brenda Johnson or write to P&D, 319 Walnut St., Yankton, SD 57078, Attn: Brenda Johnson.

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Right in our growing region are two authorities on daylilies. One grower has a retail nursery and the other grows daylilies for personal enjoyment and has hybridized daylilies. Their message is that beginners and experienced gardeners can grow daylilies. They give general flower growing tips. The network of daylily enthusiasts in our region is active and invites new members.

Daylilies beyond stellas

Yellow “Stella De Oro” daylilies are almost as widely grown as landscape roses. They are carefree once established, bloom vigorously, each bloom lasting only a day, grow in a wide range of soil conditions, bloom in early summer and then again later, and come back next year.

Hundreds of other daylilies are also easy care, have a wide range of colors and bloom times and can be matched to this growing region. To help us learn about daylilies is Gail Korn, grower and retailer of daylilies at Garden Perennials of Wayne, Nebraska. Call (402) 375-3615 or visit www.gardenperennials.net

 Korn was mentioned as a grower in our region by a local admirer of perfect-for-a day daylily blooms, Evelyn Schindler. Photos of daylilies are from Schindler’s Yankton garden.

Korn is a member of the American Hemerocallis Society and has contributed articles for its journal. She is active in Region 1 of the organization that includes several Midwest states and into Canada. Members confer with each other about growing daylilies by mail and email.

Gail Korn has been in the business of growing and selling daylilies for 31 years. We visit at her garden nursery where customers can select potted daylilies or use her website and talk with her for mail orders. She said her daylily orders have been sent to every state.  

“I got a call [one] mid-September from Alaska,” Korn said. “I asked him if it was a bit late to plant them there. He would plant them in the crawl space under his house and take them out in spring. A year and spring later he placed an order for the same daylilies. I think he forgot they were under his house.”

Daylilies For Beginners

Growing daylilies isn’t hard, according to Korn.

“If someone else is growing them in your area, [that helps you find out what to expect].. I came here from Iowa where soil is black and fine. It’s yellow clay here. It’s an east-facing garden where I started the nursery on eight acres. I read a book by Ruth Stout on mulching and started adding rotted hay to the soil. Now we add leaf mulch. The USDA Zone is generally 4b here.” That’s about the same as it is throughout this region.

“Now when I plant a daylily, I add two handfuls of loose alfalfa meal in the hole. It’s great for the soil,” she said. She buys it where horse feed is sold. “I also add a half cup of polymer crystals. Daylily roots attach to the crystals. When it’s dry it’s another source of water.” For her the planted crystals last more than three years.

“I dig a hole big enough to accommodate the roots. You want to have the crown, where the roots meet the leaves, no more than an inch into the soil,” Korn said.

She said that daylilies often bloom the same year they are planted, depending on factors such as when planted, condition of soil and energy stored in the fleshy roots. Often they bloom the year after planting. But daylilies are like other perennials in that they overcome transplant shock, grow more roots and thrive by the third season after planting.

Potted daylilies may be planted anytime in the season but August to mid-September is a good time to dig daylilies that are to be divided. This way roots can grow before winter. Late-planted daylilies may heave out of the soil during winter freeze / thaw cycle.

“You can put a brick on either side of the plant. It keeps soil warm in fall and cooler in spring,” Korn said.

Dividing daylilies can be a way to share plants with others. She plants them about two feet apart and they do well for her. Korn uses a long handled fork to divide daylilies because there is less damage to the fleshy roots. She tends to leave part of the clump whole rather than completely dividing all the plants. That way the undisturbed plant will continue to perform as any other established plant.

Like water needs of many perennials, she said the goal is to apply an inch of water a week to daylilies.

“Plants will bloom more if you give them this much water. Fleshy roots hold water during dry conditions,” she said. Korn lost a hillside of daylilies when area homeowners ran low on water during the drought of 2012.  

“Daylilies are most beautiful after a rain,” Korn said. A flower show contestant laid a soaker hose in his garden three days before the show as a way to get the best result from his daylily blooms.

Daylilies are not prone to problems. If daylilies have been planted more than three years, receive adequate water, and don’t bloom, then check to see if they need to be divided. Otherwise, pests are few.

Other Favorite Perennials

Besides daylilies, Korn likes other lilies, daisies, sedum, Spuria irises on tall stalks that bloom in late June and hostas. She said she limits herself to fifty varieties of hostas. Then there is allium, and penstemon and perhaps more if time allowed consideration.

Korn began her business after selling trees and shrubs for a large Nebraska landscape nursery. She also designed gardens for placement of the plants. At the time, there was no local source for perennials and she thought maybe she could be that source. “I asked myself ‘What do people need?’ I started small. I might have been scared out of it. I had no idea the extent it would grow. It’s fun when people let me choose what will do well for them,” she said.

“We fill peoples’ trunks with some of my favorite plants they don’t know about. In a year or two, I see them and they have gained enough knowledge about their plants for a start,” Korn said.

Daylily Grower Shares Tips

Donna Steele likes daylilies. Even if she takes the bloom indoors and floats it in a bowl, the perfect flower only lasts a day. Daylilies are quite hardy. She likes the many forms of daylilies from which to select and she has nine daylily beds at her home. A bloom lasts a day, but the scape [bloom stalk] has many buds. She selects daylilies that bloom in succession for most of the season. Daylilies that re-bloom in the season are among others in her collection. She grows daylilies for her enjoyment and has officially introduced two new daylily cultivars that she hybridized.

Steele lives in rural Wolsey in the Huron area of South Dakota and is president of the state daylily organization called Dakota Prairie Daylily Society. She’s also taken master gardener training and is a member of South Dakota State Horticultural Society.

She is a USDA Zone 4 gardener, dabbles a bit with Zone 5 plants and she said her soil is clay loam soil at best. She lives on top of a hill with protective trees, but her daylilies mostly grow in strong prairie winds.

“Last winter we lost quite a few daylilies in my rock garden to the northwest with the lack of snow cover. Daylilies behind trees did quite well. Some are around the house, some to the west; some are in a rock garden to the southwest, and some [are] out by the road. If we are farmers or growers, the weather affects us all,” Steele said.

Daylily Care

“When I get a daylily to plant, I usually soak it in a bucket of water for a day so when I put it in the ground it already has moisture in its fleshy roots,” she said.

When she chooses the location for daylilies, she wants enough sunlight.

“At least half sun to half shade is OK. Some red daylilies actually lose color if they are grown in full sun,” she said.

“When I plant a daylily, I put compost or manure in the hole to give it a good start. If it lives, it lives. This is our soil here and it has to make it,” Steele said.

Once planted, she wants the plant to get a good start the first season. She soaks the daylily often until it sends up first new leaves. Although some fertilize the daylilies they grow, she doesn’t see that need.

“Water is so important,” she said. “We have an underground sprinkler for some of the beds. Some daylilies are out by the road and only get water when it rains. Some have died and some are small.”

Hybridizing Daylilies

Steele has enjoyed learning how to hybridize daylilies. She takes pollen from the anther of one recognized daylily cultivar and puts it on the sticky stigma of another cultivar bloom. If seeds form in the ovary, she harvests the seeds, and keeps accurate records.

“I put the seeds in the refrigerator in the fall. In spring you plant the seed like you do for tomato transplants. Once planted outdoors, daylilies take about three years for the first blooms,” she said. [Nurseries often sell three year old plants.]

“When you hybridize, sometimes you get pretty blooms and sometimes ugly ones. That’s what’s fun. It’s like raising children. You don’t know what you are going to get,” she said.  Looks aren’t everything. The new plant has to grow well and produce many buds. She selects daylilies to hybridize that have the most features she wants. A commercial hybridizer grows multiples of the new plant for others to try them out.

“By now, there are over 70,000 introduced daylilies,” Steele said. “New hybridized daylilies have different names. I named one after my daughter and one after my granddaughter. My green thumb came from my mother and grandmother who had gardens. I was raised on a farm.” She also participated in 4-H.

Budding Daylily Interest?

Steele invites all interested in learning about daylilies to join the Dakota Prairie Society. Members are scattered over the state and they determine locations for the three meetings a year. A tour of her daylilies in Wolsey is the next event on July 19. For more information, email her at jws@venturecomm.net/.

Region 1 of the American Hemerocallis Society (AHS) meets in South Sioux City, Nebraska, July 11-13 for its summer meeting which includes several surrounding states and a Canadian province, Activities include tours of several gardens. For more information about this event, AHS, or about daylilies go to www.daylilies.org /.

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