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Plant Habits

Flower and Bud Count...

Flower bud count is very important on daylilies.  Because each open flower on a daylily plant only lasts one day, and is replaced the next day or so with another open flower, it is important to have many buds on a plant to display its beauty over a long period of time.  Cultivars that have only ten buds will only be in bloom for a maximum of ten days (bloom period may be less if more than one flower is open each day).  Bud counts in the upper teens or greater will supply many days of enjoyment.


Scapes are the plant structures that carry the flower buds of the daylily.  One might ask why scapes are worth mentioning, well, here's the scoop.  This flower carrying stem can be strong and sturdy or weak and willowy, straight or bent, branched or un-branched, and tall or short.  All of these variables may effect how the flowers are displayed for your enjoyment.  Most gardeners are looking for sturdy, straight, well-branched scapes that reach just above the foliage.  Sturdy scapes are resilient to the wind and are better able to carry large bud counts.  Good branching of the scapes allows for better flower separation, which allows them to fully open.   Cultivars with good branching habits will generally produce more buds.  Height of the scape is highly variable and tall or short scapes are merely a personal preference.  Scapes that are so short that the flowers open within the foliage are generally not well liked because a short scape prevents the flowers from easily being seen and from fully opening.


A fan is a single unit of growth of a daylily plant containing leaves, crown and roots.  It may be separated from a clump and continue to grow on as a plant in itself.  A single fan usually consists of 6 to 20 leaves and is capable of flowering if old enough.  Most daylily growers sell double fan divisions; that is, two fans with a single root system.  This usually allows the plant to get a good start and begin blooming nicely within a year.

Root Systems...

Daylily root systems are tough, drought resistant structures that are essential for proper plant growth and flowering.  The roots of daylilies tend to be very fleshy, and often tuberous (looking like small sweet potatoes).  Much water can be stored in a well-developed root system.  If daylilies are not grown in well-drained soils, their root systems do not develop properly or can rot.  The crown is a small white core located between the leaves and the root system. It should only be one to two inches below the soil surface.  The root system will  extend down another eight to fifteen inches beyond this point on healthy plants.  Roots should be encouraged to grow into the soil for water and not rely upon surface moisture.  Plants that have only a few deep reaching roots are less likely to have the expected number of full sized brightly pigmented flowers during dry spells due to an insufficient water supply. 


Modern daylilies exhibit three types of foliage habits - dormant, semi-evergreen, and evergreen.  These three habits are not always well defined, because some cultivars seem to fall somewhere in between. The hardiness of a cultivar in northeast Wisconsin is often related to it's foliage habit.  The following is a perspective on the foliage types and their general characteristics and behaviors including hardiness...

Dormant daylilies have foliage that begins growth when temperatures are warm enough to support healthy plant progress in cool climates.  They also stop growth late in the season when cool temperatures and a shorter day length can no longer support their increase.  "Dormants" appear to require a winter down time to prosper.  Just prior to winter, resting buds are set in the crown of the plant and leaves die down.  Resting buds are 'bullet shaped' in appearance and are found just below the soil surface, where they remain until warmer spring temperature trigger their growth.  Due to their compact structure, resting buds are well protected from ice, dehydration and other environmental factors experienced during the winter months.  Dormant daylilies are well suited for Wisconsin and poorly equipped for Florida and similar warm climes. Dormants generally lose vigor in areas that do not experience freezing temperatures.   Spring foliage on dormants in northern regions is generally more robust and healthier than semi-evergreens and evergreen cultivars.  Flowering and bud counts also tend to be better on dormant plants in Wisconsin, but the opposite is true in warm climates.

One last item about dormants deserves consideration...photoperiod dormants!  A number of dormant cultivars have been coming out of southern hybridizing programs recently which do not prosper in Wisconsin.  Many of these plants appear dormant, but are not resilient to extreme cold.  Day length in these cultivars causes dormancy in both the north and south, but the hardiness factor has been removed.  

How can a consumer tell if a semi-evergreen or an evergreen is hardy in north?   If you are adept at studying hybridizing pedigrees, you may be able to determine an evergreen's chances in the cold by looking at its parents' hardiness (an educated guess).  Most consumers wait for someone to test the cultivar in a cold climate before making a purchasing decision.   A daylily society such as the Bay Area Daylily Buds and its members can be of  great assistance by providing information concerning cultivar hardiness.

Evergreen daylilies are best suited to warm climates like that of Florida. These plants exhibit continuous growth, even during cold weather.   Evergreen foliage can sometimes be seen growing beneath snow, but unfortunately it typically freezes and turns to mush.  Evergreens generally weaken themselves during winter months in cold climates by continually growing without the benefit of proper day-length and temperatures.  Growing and losing foliage to cold temperatures is not a beneficial tactic for Wisconsin.  One might think that no evergreen daylilies would do well in Wisconsin, but some actually prosper!  For instance "Lunar Max," an evergreen, grows and blooms nicely despite negative 20 F temperatures.  It's foliage often looks mushy in the spring and the plant grows some rather yellow leaves for a couple of weeks, but later this cultivar gathers itself for a great July bloom.  Evergreens are the plant of choice in the south and many beautiful flowers are born on this type of plant.   Florida hybridizers, as well most other hybridizers in the U.S., produce many new evergreen daylily cultivars every year, a few may grow in Wisconsin, most will freeze out or rot in the spring.    

Apparently not just temperature affects the hardiness of a particular cultivar, but a combination of conditions during winter months.  Exposure, moisture, frost heaving, soils, and establishment of the plant before cold weather all appear to play a role.   The consumer should also be aware that many growers and sellers grow daylilies in greenhouses, and, of course, this will not give the buyer an accurate account of hardiness.  Plants out of Florida and other southern states are a gamble, but sometimes the flowers are so gorgeous they are worth the unexpected.  Mulching these plants through their first winter often increases the chance for survival.

Semi-evergreen daylilies are creatures whose intermediate foliage behavior is not adequately described as simply dormant or evergreen.  Most of the daylily cultivars registered within the last few years have been given the semi-evergreen designation by their hybridizers.  Many of these cultivars behave as evergreen daylilies in our Wisconsin gardens.  Semi-Evergreen cultivars, in theory, should not go completely dormant, but will slow or stop growth during very cold weather.  If you ask five different daylily growers what a semi-evergreen looks like, you will probably get five different answers.  For northern gardeners, the practical point about semi-evergreens is that while some cultivars that are registered as semi-evergreen will prosper in Wisconsin, many other cultivars that are registered semi-evergreen are as intolerant in the north as are most evergreens.

In summation, foliage habit does not completely indicate a plant's hardiness or it's performance level.  Dormants are best suited to the typical Wisconsin climate, but some semi-evergreens and evergreens are acceptably hardy in our gardens.

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