Growing Concerns 195: Daylilies

We want to plant some daylilies at our place up north. We know they'll do well where we plan to put them since some are thriving there now, but we'd like to change to a smaller variety such as Stella D'Oro. Since I'd like “instant flower beds” we're faced with buying quite a large number.

            Would you recommend planting bulbs, small packaged plants, or full plants? In the case of bulbs, is there any real difference between them, because the catalogs vary. Should we just shop price? If there is a quality difference, what are the considerations and what would you think to be a good price, source and “brand?” In this same vein, I wonder if even though bulbs may be cheaper than plants, there may be a greater failure rate thus making the plants the best overall value. If we do go with bulbs, when would you suggest planting? J. H.

When we leave home for a weekend with our family, anyone looking at our luggage and provisions would think we're leaving forever. The last thing we want to do is figure out how to shoehorn fifty potted plants in with us. Rather than rent a trailer, We'd pack fifty bare root (what you call “bulb”) daylilies into one 15' x 15" x 15" cardboard box.

            Bare root plants often cost less, too, since the seller doesn't have to pass on the cost of potting. You can buy bare root plants of some varieties at near-wholesale cost. You can also order individual varieties and pay $5 or $10 a plant, bare root. The difference is basic economics.

            Mary Herrema, who operates Englearth Gardens with her husband Ken Herrema and their grown children, learned the economics of nursery sales from her parents and grandparents. “One reason pricing varies is that a name can be very marketable. Lately, anything with the word ‘raspberry’ in the name has been a hot seller! Also, collectors will pay more for a variety that's new and not widely available.”

            “The average gardener doesn't have to go after the trendy plant. There are many good daylily varieties, in every color, height, fragrance, and including some night-bloomers we can enjoy even if we're not in the garden by day. A lot of wonderful old daylily varieties are fabulous performers and can be bought for less than newer plants -- unless the old variety was just featured in a national gardening magazine. That drives the demand up. ‘Hyperion’ is a case in point, a fragrant yellow daylily that is suddenly more expensive than it has been.”

            “Look for books that include a full description of the plant, not just the name. Choose for color, height and bloom season. If you're planting a lot of daylilies, be sure to buy all three seasons. There are early, mid-season and late-season daylilies -- often shown as E, M or L in the description. That's what we do in our naturalizing mix, or when people come here for help in selecting daylilies. About timing -- we dig and sell bare root plants from spring through fall.”

            To get Englearth's catalog, write or call to 2461 22nd, Hopkins, MI 49328, (269) 793-7196. If you're in Grand Rapids or Kalamazoo, MI, you're just 30 minutes away and could see their magnificent display gardens. If you haven't heard of Englearth's before, blame these gardens. The Herrema's don't have an advertising budget, they have a garden maintenance budget instead. It's all the advertising they've ever needed to do.

            As for success rate with potted and bare root plants, you can succeed or fail either way. At vacation homes where periods of neglect are the norm, if the soil on the site has average or better ability to hold water, we'd bet on bare root plants. That's because plants in typical potting medium drain and dry out quickly, especially when plugged into soil of a different consistency. Covered by an homogenous layer of clay loam, sandy loam or even clay, your daylilies will survive two or three weeks between waterings while you're down south with your nose to the grindstone.