Q: I want to cover a long bank with daylilies. I’ve heard that they require almost no care, but I’m skeptical. just how much maintenance will a daylily bed need? — Cheryl Winters, Oak Park, Ill.
A: Daylilies give much and ask for little. Virtually pest-free, they thrive in moist or dry soil, in sun or light shade, and in almost every climate. You could plant the bank and never again lift a finger (barring an invasion by weed trees, blackberries, or the like). But careful variety selection and a few hours spent housecleaning the daylily bed twice a year will produce the look you want.
You can avoid daily grooming by choosing “self-cleaning” varieties, which drop spent blossoms rather than letting them hang around looking like wet socks. Ask your daylily supplier about this trait. At a garden center, shop when the daylilies are blooming and judge for yourself. After all the daylilies have finished flowering, cut back the stalks, which otherwise will turn brown while the leaves are still green. The job goes quickly with sharp pruners. In your cold climate, don’t plant so-called evergreen varieties: some of these are hardy in the Chicago area, but their foliage gets tatty after a hard winter. The leaves of deciduous daylilies lie down obligingly after a killing frost, so you might think of this perennial as self-mulching. In late winter, you can rake off the dead foliage, though this is strictly optional. In fact, leaving the matted foliage in place may help prevent weed seeds from sprouting.
Select long-blooming varieties that flower for a month or more. ‘Happy Returns,’ ‘Stella De Oro,’ and ‘Carefree Yellow’ are three good ones. For a more uniform look, choose varieties with similar heights and foliage textures. Finally, arrange drifts of different cultivars in broad, horizontal sweeps that follow the main sight line. This way, the display will look more continuous across the entire bed even when some varieties are out of bloom. Several easy-care perennials will combine pleasingly with daylilies without adding to your workload. Cranesbills (Geranium species and hybrids), coneflowers, veronica, and the new, mildew-resistant garden phlox and bee balm are all excellent companions.