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Day lilies are wonderful performers in our hot, dry conditions. Even though the individual flowers have a brief fleeting bloom, the plants themselves produce so many flowers that they make a great display for a month or more in the garden. Day lilies thrive in poor soils and hostile sites and make a wonderful addition to perennial gardens. The Chinese have long cultivated day lilies for their beauty and as an ingredient in some of their recipes. Day lily tubers are edible and are often used in soups or salads. I'll graciously defer the recipes to the food editor (Ann Whiting Allen) but will try to help on the growing information.

Day lilies have been one of the fastest growing groups of plants in America gardens. Prior to World War II only three varieties of day lilies were generally grown in American gardens. Today there are over 30,000 different named cultivars and almost 300 registered day lily breeders! A typical plant will produce 50 or more flowers during a season but each blossom lasts for only a day, which gives the plant its common name as well as its botanical name. The botanical name, Hemerocallis, means "beauty for a day."The plants themselves are perennial, with tuberous, fleshy roots. In our climate, they are deciduous and produce large clumps of handsome, arching sword-shaped leaves. The lilylike flowers are born open branch clusters at the end of a leafless stem that may stand from 1 to 6 feet tall with flowers that are 3-8 inches. Day lily blooms are categorized as miniatures (flowers of less than 3 inches); small (flowers of 3-41/2 inches) and large (over 41/2 inches). Flowers also come in singles or doubles. Day lilies now come in every shade and tint possible except pure white and a true blue.

Under Utah conditions the bloom season of a given variety generally lasts from three to four weeks. This of course varies with the variety being grown. Bloom season is commonly divided into early blooms, which occur from late May to June; middle blooms, from June through July; and late blooms, from August into September. New varieties have been selected that will rebloom after their initial cycle and give an even longer display.

One of the things I enjoy best about day lilies is that they are very long-lived and do not require constant attention. They are restrained in their growth and generally are not invasive. They do not compete with tree and shrub roots and the hybrids will not reseed, so this further limits the problems with spreading. Because the hybrids don't reproduce from seed they must be propagated vegetatively. This is usually done by dividing the clumps. Once you have a variety you can divide the clump and spread it around the garden. Even though division is not necessary, it will maintain the vigor of the plant.

Meticulous day lily growers divide the clumps at least every three years. Day lilies can be divided at any time during the year but it always is easier if you wait until flowering has finished because many of the outer leaves will turn brown and can be removed. Dig the clumps with a fork and pry them apart. This is sometimes difficult but even if the roots are damaged they will regrow very quickly. Unless you are trying to propagate many new clumps, it is not necessary to separate them into small divisions. Larger clumps will re-establish themselves more quickly.

As mentioned previously, day lilies are adaptable to poor soils and hostile sites. But they do perform best in well-drained soil with average fertility. They tolerate sun and shade well but some varieties are more delicate and tend to fade very quickly in the sun.

Plants should be spaced between 18 and 36 inches apart depending on the variety. They are very hardy in the Intermountain area. Even though the day lily does well planted on its own, it also makes great combinations with iris, daisies and other perennials. Masses on banks or under high branched deciduous trees along roadsides or driveways can be very colorful. Dwarf day lilies are especially nice in rock gardens as edging plants or groundcover. Day lilies also do well with broad-leaved evergreens.

Day lilies should be planted after soaking the tubers for several hours. A light dose of starter fertilizer will also help them. Spread the roots out and firm the soil after it is placed in the hole. Don't plant them too deep since they grow down into the soil. They are among the most carefree of any of the flowers. They need occasional watering and a light feeding. They also look better if you remove the spent blossoms.

Mulching greatly improves growth and weed control in the day lily garden. A 3-inch mulch of bark, shredded leaves, compost, etc., will help conserve moisture and supress weeds. Plants need watering in our climate but can get by with very little extra water if the need arises. If they are under drought stress they will not produce as many flower buds.

Another plus for low-maintenance gardens is that day lilies do not seem to have any serious problems with insect pests. In fact, most day lily growers don't advocate spraying unless you see a serious problem. Spraying may make problems worse as you kill off the natural predators and allow certain insects to multiply. They are also free of most common disease problems.

If you would like to see some beautiful day lilies in bloom, check the gardens at the State Arboretum at the mouth of Red Butte Canyon. You can also get additional information on the day lilies by attending the 1990 Lily Days Show Saturday, July 21st at the Associated Garden Club Center in Sugarhouse Park. It will be open from 1-4 p.m. and it is free to the public. Call 466-0121 for more information. Attending the show will also get you more information on the American Hemerocallis Society and the Utah Hemerocallis Society.

LAWNS NEED 1.75 inches of water this week.