Daylilies are popular for planting and sharing by both novice and experienced gardeners. If you bought a daylily a few years ago, it's probably now big enough to divide. With a few minutes in the garden, you can have a like-new plant to give to a special friend or exchange for a different garden specimen. Let me explain daylily dividing, a near "no-brainer" of a gardening task.
Daylily dividing goes way back
The oldest, most passed-along daylily in North America may be the wild species called orange daylily and technically known as Hemerocallis fulva. Orange daylily is so shareable, it made it way from its origin in Asia, into Europe and finally to America many generations ago. This tall, vigorous lily is seen in gardens new and old across the United States. (Some call them tiger lilies but I reserve that name for Lilium lancifolium, an entirely different plant.) I've heard fulvas called outhouse lilies; they made an easy floral screen for that strictly functional structure all houses used to have. The persistence of orange daylilies around abandoned homesites is a testimony to the hardiness of Hemerocallis.
The improved daylilies that you find for sale commercially are listed in Plantfiles under the genus name Hemerocallis, with the dozens of cultivars then shown. With so many colors and forms available, who could get tired of them? Chances are you can always find something new to share.
"Bring something to plant"
I was inspired for this article by a recent last-minute invitation to spend a night at a friend's beach house. The final confirming email was brief- "Follow road to the end, blue siding, bring something to plant" Wow! I was thrilled that someone wanted a piece of my garden, but what to take? After contemplating my choices, I decided on a daylily. I knew this happy-go-lucky plant would survive being yanked up by its hair and dumped in a bucket, hastily packed in a van for a three hour drive, and left for a day or two still bucketized before final planting. Technically, I took two; some faithfully reblooming Stella D'Oros and a few pieces of the lily pictured above, which I hoped would be a novelty for my recipient. The daylilies survived just fine, as I knew they would. I'd like to show you how easily you can share your own daylilies.
Here's a how-to for digging up and dividing daylilies:
The plant will be happiest, and the digger too, if the soil is moist before digging. If you have time, water the prospective dividee the day before you work.
Here's a big old clump of daylilies in my garden. I really need to divide this bunch. There are about two dozen fans (groups of leaves arising from one point) here. When they are in such a tight clump, the stems are all competing with one another for resources.
Stick a fork or shovel in the ground about six or eight inches away from the base of the plant and push the tool down to the depth of the tines or blade if possible.
Pry up. Watch and see that the whole plant is moving as you lift. If only the dirt is moving, and the leaves seem to stay still, you're not getting under the root mass. you may even be cutting a lot of roots. A hefty clump like this may require that you loosen it on several sides before lifting.
Daylily roots form a thick mat. These sturdy roots with enlarged portions help the plant survive the trauma of moving. You could offer the plant as is, if it's made up of no more than five or six "fans" (groups of leaves). Just plop it in a bucket or old nursery pot.
Here's my big clump needing to be taken apart into four large sections, or more smaller ones. Those thick, tough roots really cling to each other. Two garden forks can be used to pry the clump apart. Insert the tools close together. The tines will slip between the roots and not cause major damage. Push the handles apart. The leverage you get with the handles makes this very easy. One plant has become two.
Some smaller or younger clumps might be loose enough for you to pull divisions off by hand. Try to get a grip where leaves meet roots, and gently wiggle and pull. If you feel some give, it should yield to careful persistent tugging.
Lacking two forks, try one fork and your hands. Or cut the mass with a shovel as I did here. Look for an opening to reduce the amount of cutting damage, place a shovel edge against the root mass, and stomp down. Uh-oh. As luck would have it, I sliced right through one fan at its base. That's the large white root, right in the middle of the root ball. I better discard that badly damaged part. I have plenty of healthy fans left anyway.
Shown on the right- one large three-fan division, and two single fans, the smallest portions you can make from a daylily.
Have bucket (or bag), will travel
Daylilies are not wimpy. You can put your clump or divisions into a bucket, add a little loose soil over the roots, and water just so its all moist. Another option is to wrap the roots with newspaper and wet that, and put the root ball into a plastic bag. The goal is to keep the roots damp but let the leaves have air. In bag or bucket, these plants are good for a trip in the car, several hours on the neighbor's porch, or a day or two waiting in the break room at work for a new home.
What if you're the recipient of these delightful gifts, or you want to keep a portion for yourself? While I have the tools out, let me show you how easy it is to plant the divisions.
Planting daylily divisions is easy, too
The dividing and transporting of these flowers will probably have knocked a lot of the dirt off, leaving them with mostly bare roots. Make a hole about a foot across and six inches deep. Then mound up a few inches of dirt in the middle of the hole. Place the plants, with roots spread out. (Here I have put two of my divisons, totaling four nice fans, on the mound, and spread out the roots.) Cover the roots and adjust the plants if needed so that the green parts are all above ground level. Press the soil on and between the roots and flood with water. When the water has soaked in add a bit more dirt, if needed to level the area, and mulch. These four fans will likely make four flower stems and add several new fans next summer.
Sometimes I share plants just so I can trade for other greenery or flowers. More often though, I share plants as an act of friendship. We fellow gardeners share small parts of ourselves to grow in someone else's garden. All of my daylilies except one have come from Dave's Garden friends generosity. I hope my instructions have inspired you to divide your own daylilies. Maybe someday you'll share them with me!
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Many thanks to DGers rubyw (and hubby) and Gitagal, for sharing your daylilies with me!
Bradley, Fern Marshal, and Ellis, Barbara W., editors. Rodale's All-New Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening. Rodale Press, Emmaus, 1997.All pictures used were taken by the author.