Yes, the blooms may only last one day, but just like a No.9 bus, as the saying goes, another will come along straight after, or even more frequently, depending on how many plants you have. For the folk who like to be technical, it is a flowering plant in the genus Hemerocallis in the Asphodelaceae family. Despite the common name, it is not in fact a lily at all.
These enchanting perennials range in colour from sunny yellows and blushing pinks to deep purples and electric greens, and have some fascinating names – Paint It Black, String Bikini Reblooming, Diva’s Choice, Black Arrow, Enchanted Forest - even one called Star of Portugal (you’ve just got to plant this one!) - and many others. They may have a graceful trumpet shape or they may have the slender, reaching petals of spider varieties. Because different varieties have different blooming periods, it's possible to enjoy these splendid flowers from spring until autumn in an ever-changing display of styles and colours.
They grow quickly, are long lived and can cope in almost any type of soil. Daylilies will grow in sun or shade, are rarely troubled by insect pests or disease, and grow best when planted in full sun (6 hours/day), in moist, but well-drained soil and the dark-coloured varieties require afternoon shade to help retain their colour. When planted in the correct location, daylilies can bloom year after year with very little care. They aren't picky about fertilizer either, and you can use a high quality, nitrogen rich fertilizer each spring before they begin to bloom if you think their soil is poor. Slow release fertilizer, liquid fertilizer, compost or well-rotted manure are all good choices as well.
Because there are so many varieties, consider your needs and preferences when looking for daylilies to plant. Smaller types are ideal for borders, lining pathways or in low flower beds. Because of their long, slender, grasslike leaves, taller varieties are perfect for planting amongst ornamental grasses or for placement at the back of a flower bed. Daylilies are a good choice for planting on raised banks as, once established, their roots tend to keep soil in place and discourage erosion.
Rather than one onion-like bulb, daylilies form a mass of thickened, tuberous, fleshy roots. These unique root systems hold so much moisture and nutrients, that the plants can actually survive out of the ground for weeks. If you find you need to thin out your plants, they can be divided in early spring (as new growth begins to emerge) or in late summer. Just dig up the entire clump with a spade, shake or wash off the soil and then carefully pull the clump apart. You can re-plant the original plant if you wish and transplant the new one somewhere new, or give it away to another gardener who may be looking to expand their plant collection.
As mentioned above, daylily flowers last just one day, but to keep the plants looking their best, snip off the spent flowers, taking care not to disturb nearby buds. As the stems or ‘scapes’ finish blooming, cut them back to the ground to keep the plants looking neat and prevent them from putting energy into seed production.
The only downside to them is they love water during the growing season and prefer about an inch of water per week. In many areas, regular rainfall might be enough, but in Portugal, where rainfall is less consistent, supplemental watering will benefit your daylilies enormously, but if you use ‘grey water’ – the water you save while waiting for your shower to run hot for instance – you won't feel any guilt from appearing to be ‘wasting’ water!
For those who don’t have a garden, daylilies in big clumps in planters can look beautiful and will thrive with some extra care and attention. They are very easy plants to maintain, and the only difference when grown in a pot is that you will need to water the plant more often, but they will do very well as long as the container has drainage holes and is in a sunny spot.
Marilyn writes regularly for The Portugal News, and has lived in the Algarve for some years. A dog-lover, she has lived in Ireland, UK, Bermuda and the Isle of Man.