Every year, it seems, there are a few ornamental plants that stand out in the landscape. Last month, it was kousa dogwood, which put on a prolonged, prolific display of blossoms. Right now, it is the day lily; botanically its name is Hemerocallis. Though day lilies are quite common in most gardens, they seem more apparent this year. One reason may be their tolerance to drought, which has been the dominant weather feature the past few months. While other herbaceous plants have struggled, day lilies have thrived.
Ability to tolerate drought is just one feature that makes it a popular perennial plant of home gardeners. Often referred to as the "perfect perennial," it adapts readily to different soil and light conditions, requires minimal maintenance, and has few pests and diseases. Another factor in its popularity is the tremendous range of flower colors, sizes, and forms. Even the most finicky gardener is bound to find some varieties to their liking, given that there are about 75,000 registered cultivars (cultivated varieties). Perhaps the best way to determine which type of daylily you like is to visit an American Hemerocallis Society Display Garden. One such garden is located at the Berkshire Botanical Garden in Stockbridge, Mass.
Day lily gets its botanical name from the Greek word hēmerokalles, which means day beauty. You don't have to be Greek to know that the term is in reference to the fact that a day lily blossom remains open for only one day — a bummer for anyone who entertained thoughts of using day lilies in floral arrangements. However, that's no problem since the plant produces a large number of flower buds over a period of several weeks. Also, with so many cultivars, you can have continuous bloom of day lilies from late spring to fall. In addition there are many new cultivars which are repeat bloomers, that is, they bloom for several weeks, take a snooze, and then bloom again for several weeks.
No time for us to snooze with so many tasks at hand:
• Weed, water and mulch. That's the order of the day in vegetable and flower gardens.
• Thin crowded strawberry beds by removing all but the sturdiest looking plants. Afterward, remove any weeds and apply cottonseed meal or similar fertilizer at a rate of about two to three pounds per hundred square feet of bed.
• Check potato and eggplant for Colorado potato beetles. They may be in the larval stage. Potato beetle larvae are hunch-backed and rusty red or pale red in color. An insecticide containing spinosad, neem or the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, var. tenebrionis are safe materials to use for control. Hand-picking the larvae and adult beetles is another option.
• Harvest garlic by digging up plants when bottom third to one-half of their leaves have turned brown. Tie plants in small bunches and hang these in a dry, dark, airy location for three to four weeks to cure. After curing, cut off the leaves about one-inch above the bulbs. If garlic is left in the ground too long, the outer skin around the bulb breaks and the individual cloves separate. These bulbs will not store well.
• Sow seeds of biennials, including Canterbury bells, foxglove, digitalis, sweet William, Siberian wallflower, and Iceland poppies, for a display of flowers next year. Keep the seedlings well-watered and shaded on hot, sunny days.
• Don't get your knickers in a twist over mushrooms popping up in lawns. They are no threat to the lawn. However, since many of these mushrooms are poisonous, break them by raking or beheading them with the lawn mower, but forewarn any elves living beneath the mushrooms.