Tough as Nails Plants that Belong in your Garden, Part 1

By Kathy Conner Cornell
VCE Southside Master Gardener

Although I lean towards native plants and herbs, I do enjoy lilies. I am admitting that I even enjoy the so-called “ditch” lilies that we called Tiger Lilies, Hemerocallis fulva. I have used these around barns and sheds since they grow quickly and spread so minimize weeds. But there are many beautiful options for our landscapes.
The heirloom daylilies of Early Daylily H. dumortieri, Lesser-Daylily H lilio-asphodelus, and Middendorf Lily, H middendorfhi hail from Siberia and Japan. They are becoming more difficult to find. However, these are the matriarchs of the thousands and thousands of hybrids available today.

The ‘Mary’s Gold’ daylily was awarded the President’s Cup in 2001. This is presented to the hybridizer of the cultivar considered to be the most outstanding off all the daylilies displayed at the National Convention of the American Hemerocallis Society.

Daylilies are widely known throughout the United States and Canada with hundreds of display gardens. The genus name Hemerocallis comes from the Greek words hemera meaning day and kalos meaning beautiful which defines that the flowers are beautiful for a day. Indeed, they only bloom one day but there are so many buds that the show lasts for about 4 weeks.
Daylilies are not true lilies Liliums. The hybrids are cultivated for various colors, shapes, sizes and bloom times. I have daylily colors ranging from white to deep purple and everything in between. Early bloomers can start in April/May, most bloom here in June and July but there are late bloomers that can extend the display through September. There are some repeat bloomers like ‘Happy Returns’ and ‘Stella D’Oro’ that can bloom from spring to frost with deadheading.
Daylilies hydrids can range from 6 inches high to 4 feet. Often sold in bulb catalogs, daylilies are not bulbs but have fibrous roots. When blooms are finished cut back the foliage to about 6” for a fresh flush of growth that will remain attractive through to the first hard frost. Daylily flower shapes range from the common trumpet, to double flowering, spider blooms to hose in hose which according to the American Daylily Society means the double flowers have an extra whorl of petals so it appears that there is a flower within a flower.
Daylilies have few pests and are drought tolerant once established. I admit that I look at plants like I do kids. The more you pamper and spoil them, the most they want. My daylilies get no irrigation or fertilizer but still they remain beautiful year after year. They do want full sun but can take some shade. The paler types require full sun to bloom properly but the darker types are ok with more shade. They are not picky about soil but cannot tolerate wet feet.
For more information there is a publication entitled “Daylilies in Virginia” on the Virginia Cooperative Extension website. In Part 2, I will discuss the true lilies. While we are all still practicing ‘social distancing’ due to COVID-19, and all Halifax County buildings are closed to the public, if you have gardening questions, you can best reach an Extension Master Gardener or Extension staff member by sending an email to or If you can’t email, you can call and leave a message at the Extension Master Gardener Help Desk at 434-830-3383, giving us your name, telephone number, and nature of the call. The Help Desk phone is checked timely and someone will get back to you, although it may be from a different telephone number. Keep washing your hands, wear your mask and treat yourself to some amazing daylilies.