Talk of the Earth: Lilies are pretty delicious | guest columns

While July usually brings us hot and humid weather, it also brings us an abundance of beautiful lily blooms. Daylilies (Hemerocallis spp.) are not true daylilies, which originate from bulbs, but instead grow from fleshy roots. They have few insect and disease problems, unlike true lilies which are plagued by red lily leaf beetles. It is true that deer like to munch on some lily cultivars more than others. Although I prefer to leave them in the garden for display, every part of a daylily is edible, and recipes for battered daylily buds and the like can even be found online.

Each flower lasts only one day, so the Latin name, Hemerocallis, is the most appropriate, derived from the Greek words ‘hemera’ meaning day and ‘kallus’ meaning beautiful. With thousands of named varieties to choose from, the hardest part of growing daylilies is deciding which ones to grow.

There are solid and bicolor lilies, double-flowered, miniature, scented types, and those are interesting flower shapes, like spiders. Visit some local garden centers, search online, or consider joining the Connecticut Daylily Society (www.ctdaylilyclub.com) to help you select some desirable cultivars for your particular location.

Bare-root daylilies are sold and planted primarily in the spring. For good establishment, it is important to prepare the soil before planting and dig a hole wide enough to accommodate the root system. Potted daylilies can be planted at any time during the growing season, although any plants established during warm weather will need additional watering. Most plants benefit from being planted during the cooler periods of spring or fall.

Lily care is very easy. Newly planted daylilies obviously need to be watered regularly until they are well established. Plants benefit from a natural or synthetic fertilizer spread at recommended rates (either by soil test or package directions) once a year in the spring. Daylilies tolerate a wide range of soil pH, but would prefer the soil to be somewhere between 6s. If your soil is on the acidic side, limestone can be added every two years.

Sometimes plants have a height that goes with their description. Heights refer to the length of the leafless stems (called landscapes) on which the flower buds form. Some can be as long as 6 feet!

Think about the length of these stems when deciding where to place your lilies. The shorter varieties are excellent for the front of the border or border. Medium or taller types may be better toward the back or center.

Mature plants may have 6 or more buds, each with a dozen flower buds. The flowers do not all open at the same time. To keep plants looking neat, check on them every day or two and remove spent blooms.

Once all the flowers have opened and withered, the landscapes can be trimmed down to the ground. This is done to tidy up the plants, but also to prevent the plants from putting energy into producing seeds, unless you’re trying to hybridize, in which case you’ll want seeds to be produced. Often after flowering, the lower leaves turn yellow, then brown. They can be removed as you cut off worn exhausts.

Some lily cultivars are more vigorous than others and may need to be divided after 3 to 5 years. Daylilies are best divided after flowering. Choose a cloudy day to dig the plants. Gently shake and clean the soil from the roots with a hose or they can be placed in a large tube of water to loosen the soil. Locate the crown of the plant and starting at the outside of the clump, break off into smaller beginnings, each with several leaves and a healthy set of roots. Replant your divisions and make sure they get adequate water.

While the divisions may take a year or two to establish, they will reward you with reliable blooms for years to come.

If you have questions about growing or caring for lilies or anything related to the home or garden, contact the UConn Center for Home and Garden Education, toll-free in CT, at (877) 486- 6271, visit us at www.ladybug.uconn. edu or call your local Cooperative Extension Center.

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