Daylilies aren’t true lilies and don’t have bulbs. They have fibrous roots and thicker tuberous roots. The tuberous roots enable the plant to store water through a hot, dry summer.
There are plenty of reasons to look for drought-tolerant plants.
The first reason, of course, is that we might get a drought. Another is that you might have a spot in your garden that is sunny and on the dry side. Or you might go away on vacation for a week each year and leave your garden to get along by itself, as best it can. Or you might have an area of your yard that’s beyond the reach of your hose. Or you just don’t like watering all the time.
Daylilies work in all of those scenarios.
I got to see why daylilies are drought-tolerant at the Western New York Dairy/Agricultural Festival held last month in Springville. One of the vendors was Lasting Dreams Daylilies, located at 6425 S. Abbott Road in Orchard Park. Anthony and Carol Haj, the owners, brought along a daylily plant with the roots displayed.
Many people are surprised to see that there is no bulb. True lilies, in the genus Lilium, have bulbs, but daylilies are in a different genus called Hemerocallis. They’re a different kind of plant altogether; they’re not even in the same family or order.
When you look at the photo, you can see two kinds of roots. The fibrous roots are what you’ll see on most plants, but daylilies also have tuberous roots. Those are the fatter roots. These store water and can get the plant through a long dry spell. In fact, the Hajs, who grow and hybridize daylilies, don’t water their plants during the summer.
The newer tuberous roots are white and turn a darker yellow-brown color as they age.
Some people are afraid that if a plant has tuberous roots it will be invasive, but Anthony Haj said daylilies aren’t. They will spread nicely and in a couple of years, you’ll have a nice-sized clump that you can divide and plant in another part of your yard or trade with a friend, but it won’t take over your garden.
Because it doesn’t have a bulb, the daylily won’t be bothered by chipmunks. Those cute but pesky critters exasperate gardeners by digging up bulbs.
Moles, however, can be a problem if they tunnel underneath your daylilies. Air can get through the tunnel and dry out the roots, or the tunnel can let in cold winter air that can damage the roots.
Besides moles, you shouldn’t have a problem with any insects or other pests. Daylilies aren’t attractive to deer, either (though we all know that if deer get hungry enough, they’ll eat anything).
There are three seasons for daylilies: Early blooming, which has already begun; peak blooming and late blooming. Peak blooming should be starting this week and go for about four weeks. Late blooming is a bit of a misnomer, because that period includes plants that are blooming for the first time this year, as well as plants that are reblooming. When you plant daylilies from the different blooming times, you’ll have extended color in your garden, during the summer.
You can plant daylilies through September. You want to have them in the ground for all of October so that they can root well, according to Haj. Next year, you can start planting daylilies in the spring, when it’s not too muddy.
If you want a daylily that can do well in our climate, including that harsh winter and cold spring we just had, look for plants that were locally grown. When people buy daylilies from down south, they could be “buying an expensive annual,” Haj said, because it isn’t acclimated to our climate and might not come back next year.
“We want people who buy a daylily from us to know that it will survive in their yard,” he said.
Connie Oswald Stofko is publisher of Buffalo-NiagaraGardening.com, the online gardening magazine for Western New York. Email