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The new daylilies.

The hybridizer's challenge has become the gardener's delight. Thanks to plant breeders, daylilies now come in every shade of the rainbow except blue and true green. There are tiny ones, huge ones, double ones, patterned and frilled ones. Each flower lasts only a day, but a stalk usually bears 6 to 10 buds, and plants produce 4 to 50 or more stalks depending on their age and vigor.

Some varieties put on one prolific display each spring. But here in mild-winter areas of the West, growth tends to start early and continue late, allowing many kinds to bloom repeatedly.

In nurseries, gallon-can plants sprout a few lonely bloom stalks that barely hint at this plant's potential. But plunk a dozen of those gawky specimens into good garden soil, and by next spring you should have an impressive display. In as little as three years, you can expect a show comparable to the one at left. Nurseries usually offer six to a dozen choices; most are labeled only by color.

Venture into the catalogs of mail-order specialists and your choices expand to hundreds of kinds, including more complex colors, shapes, and markings such as those shown at lower left. The hitch is that the long lists of letter-coded descriptions can be overwhelming, and there are usually few if any photographs.

But once you get the hang of reading the catalog descriptions, you'll find that they give information you couldn't see in person and a sense of the color that's about as accurate as most catalog photographs. Each variety is labeled by height, bloom size, color, and whether the foliage is evergreen, deciduous, or in between. Some catalogs also tell if the flower is fragrant, tends to bloom repeatedly during the year, or lasts into the next day (this is called extended bloom).

A list of eight Western mail-order specialists follows. By appointment, you can also visit their growing grounds and choose plants in bloom. Peak bloom time varies each year with the weather. In northern California and the Northwest, prime time is usually mid-June into July. In Southern California, bloom peaks in June. After mid-July, ask if enough late 0r reblooming kinds are open to be worth the trip, or plan to visit next spring.

Unless you happen to arrive during a lull, growers usually ship the plants you choose a few weeks later. In hot inland areas, you may want to order now for a better selection; request delivery in fall for planting weather that is less stressful on you and on the daylilies. Prices range from $3 to $5 for most varieties shown here, up to $100 for the rarest and most recent kinds.

Which kinds are best?

If you can't see the flowers in person, a good bet is to choose award-winning varieties that are old enough to have come down to budget prices. Some catalog descriptions include that information.

Most popular are the yellow, gold, and orange hues; there are more of them, and they stand out best in the landscape.

Dark or complex colors are more visible up close. Reds and purples are most risky: in hot, dry weather they have less clarity and are more apt to fade; dark colors also show any water or insect spots more readily. Ask for help in choosing the most sunfast varieties, and give them partial shade, especially during midday heat.

Doubles bloom best in warm, humid weather; in cold or dry conditions, they may open as single trumpets or not at all.

In mild-winter areas, you can choose evergreen or semievergreen varieties; most deciduous kinds also perform well. To keep evergreen foliage fresh, cut it to the ground each winter; plants leaf out again quickly. In cold-winter areas, choose deciduous kinds and mulch them in winter.

Where spring and summer nights are cool (55[deg.] or lower), daylilies may not open well. Certain varieties, particularly miniatures, are more successful. Ask growers for advice on which perform best.

Planting is easy

If you plant between now and fall, you should get ample bloom next spring. By the third year, flowers should be as abundant as in Karen Kees' Southern California garden on the previous pages. By the fifth or sixth year as plants become crowded, the flower count may gradually begin to decrease (hers has).

When flowers become small or sparse, or plants begin to push out of the ground, it's time to dig up and divide the plants. To delay that time to five years or so, most gardeners start plans 2 to 3 feet apart and interplant with annuals the first year or two. For lush-looking pots the first year, place plants closer together, as shown above.

Amend soil as needed with compost or ground bark to provide good drainage. Place plants from nursery containers even with the surrounding soil surface; set mail-order plants or divisions with an inch of the whitish stem below the surface.

Plants bloom best in full sun, but inland provide filtered shade at midday to reduce fading, especially for reds and purples.

Daylilies bloom despite considerable drought and neglect. But to get large flowers, profuse quantities, and a long bloom season, they must have good care. Most important is regular watering. The border shown gets water about every third day in summer; pots often need daily watering. To avoid spotting flowers, use drip or flood irrigation during bloom.

Once plants are established, fertilize early each spring before vigorous growth begins and again in midsummer after peak bloom. To further encourage large flowers and longer bloom, snap off faded flowers below and the seed pod every few days.

Pests and diseases are infrequent. Snails and slugs like to camp out in daylily foliage and occasionally munch leaves and flowers, but mostly eat other plants nearby. In very hot climates, you may need to spray for thrips.

Eight mail-order specialists

The first two companies list full size, miniature, and double-flowered varieties separately, making selection easier. Others list varieties alphabetically. Unless a catalog price is given, enclose a stamped, self-addressed, business-size envelope with your request for a variety list. Cordon Bleu Farms, Box 2033, San Marcos, Calif. 92069; $1. Melrose Gardens, 309 S. Best Rd., Stockton, Calif. 95205; $1. *Alpine Valley Gardens, 2627 Calistoga Rd., Santa Rosa, Calif. 95404. Caprice Farm Nursery, 15425 S.W. Pleasant Hill Rd., Sherwood, Ore. 97140. Donna's Lilies of the Valley, 1221 Highway 7 N., Tonasket, Wash. 98855. Greenwood Nursery, 2 El Camino Ratel, Goleta, Calif. 93117, $1. Iris Lane Gardens, 1649 S. Iris Lane, Escondido, Calif. 92026. Pilley's Gardens, 2829 Favill Lane, Grants Pass, Ore. 97526.
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Copyright 1985 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Jul 1, 1985
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