The Care and Feeding of Daylilies

Northern California, United States(Zone 9a)

Since daylily season is fast approaching,(YES!) I thought I would share some info I learned from Dan Trimmer's visit to our club last month. This article was originally written in the Winter 2005 Daylily Journal and I just came across it online. The link is here but I added the entire text to this post.

The Care and Feeding of Daylilies

This article appeared in the Winter 2005 Daylily
Journal. It was written by Dan Trimmer of Water Mill
Gardens, Enterprise,Fl and is reproduced here with
Dan's permission. If you want to see some of Dan's
beautiful daylily introductions go

By formal education I should be qualified to discuss International Politics but have zero
qualifications to talk about any horticultural endeavors. However, I have no experience in the political world, and I have about 25 years experience growing daylilies; in excess of 15 years as a commercial enterprise. Iíve learned my lessons via the school of making more mistakes than Iíd like to admit, and by asking as many people as possible to share what they knew, oftentimes via their formal education. So here is a very quick overview of the lessons I have learned.

Number one is WATER, WATER, WATER. If you do nothing else to your flower beds,
which hopefully are filled with daylilies, provide at least 1-1.5 inches of water per week.
This is more important than any feeding program. Number two on the list of ďthings to doĒ is take PH readings in each of the locations where you grow daylilies. Regardless of how much nutrition is present not much is going to be available to your plants unless your PH is in the 6.2-6.8 range. Iíve found inexpensive PH meters to be rather accurate when I compare them to lab tests of the same beds Iíve just tested with my el cheepo meter. In addition to the accurate PH test the laboratory will provide for you itís important to get a baseline of what nutrition and element levels are present in you beds. You canít know what to add unless you know what you need. County Cooperative Services may be able to provide this service to you at a very reasonable cost. Amend as necessary to correct any PH problems.
Whenever possible incorporate as much organic material as you can get you hands on into your garden beds. Compost, composted leaves, animal manures cottonseed meal, corn meal, bone meal, and the like will help keep your soil loose, provide valuable trace minerals and retain moisture. This could be an entire article here, but Iíll stop here.
THE BIG THREE: The Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Pot Ash that we see listed on the front of our fertilizer bags deserves quite a bit of discussion. We must understand that our daylilies are not typical perennials. With most of our flowering plants a ďbalancedĒ diet is recommended lest we get too much leaf and little bloom. Thus 10-10-10 or 6-6-6 fertilizing programs are recommended. This is not the case with Daylilies. Daylilies are in the family of plants known as monocots. Theyíre in the same plant family as ornamental grasses or corn! Monocots prefer to feed at a rate of 3-1-2, or when in active growth 4-1-2. Thus, 18-6-12 should be an ideal mix for us. Compounding the typical lack of nitrogen problem my laboratory tests always seem to reveal is the fact that the middle number in our fertilizer (phosphorus) is not easily soluble, while most of our nitrogen is quickly leeched away.
The bottom line is that if we do feed our plants year after year in the same beds we may end up with much too much phosphorus to the point where it is toxic. Before this happens, and if your soil test come back that you have adequate levels of Phosphorus try feeding with small amounts of Calcium Nitrate (which will also help raise a low PH) or Ammonium Sulfate (which will help lower PH) and Potassium Nitrate throughout the season. This will provide the nitrogen our plants like along with other valuable elements. If you make a mistake, make it by putting out too little, not too much of these products. They can be very powerful and can cause severe burning.
Early in the growing season in addition to the basic fertilizer regimen itís important to add what Iíll call the major minors; Iron, Magnesium and Calcium. Iron can come from an organic source such as Milorganite or an Iron supplement. I get my much of my magnesium from Epsom Salts (which is Magnesium Sulfate at a rate of 100 pounds per acre) and additional Calcium from the earlier mentioned Calcium Nitrate. Several professional horticulturists have told me itís important to get these ďmajor MinorsĒ our early in the growing season as they are required in order for the plants to be able to take up the big three (Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Pot Ash). When I lived on Long Island this active growth period started just after the dormants broke dormancy. Following bloom season with the first cool weather in the early fall was the time for a second very serious feeding period. Itís important not to use a time release fertilizer at this time as we want our rapid growth to end before the onset of very cold weather. This second feeding period can result in twice the plant the following year as compared to unfed plants. In Florida or the deep south we canít feed too much in the summer due to the excessive heat, so most of the feeding takes place from November through March.
Iíve found liquid feeding modest amounts of plant food very often to work wonders. Itís also important to vary the product applied. A Peterís Excel product known as Cal Mag 15-5-15 seems to make my plants very happy. (A lab test will also tell you if the important balance of calcium and magnesium is present,) I liquid feed any number of other products, most with a very high first number (nitrogen) A last couple of thoughts. Firstly, risk using too little fertilizer, not too much. (Canít say this in too loud a voice) Secondly, organic sources are better than chemical fertilizers, but for large gardens we have little choice but to use the above mentioned chemical fertilizers. Happy Gardening!

This message was edited Mar 13, 2006 7:18 PM

This message was edited Mar 13, 2006 7:21 PM

Thumbnail by Calif_Sue
Stanford, CA(Zone 9b)

Thanks Sue!

Who's the beautiful double daylily? I'm using epsom salts and milorganite but not Calcium Nitrate. Do you know if you can get this in the garden center? It is so interesting that water is the most important ingredient though. I have a few that didn't do as well as the others last summer and I can almost guarantee that it's a water problem now. Also good to know to feed in the fall - but not slow release.

Hillsboro, OH(Zone 6a)

I've printed this out and added to my hem notebook, which is about to explode. LOL I wasn't gonna click the website....see ya all in a couple of days. :)

Hillsboro, OH(Zone 6a)

I shouldn't have looked. There is Fashion Police again.....sigh.

I bet their shindigs sure are fun!

Northern California, United States(Zone 9a)

Doss, that's Formal Apperance, a Petit. Took it in Stamile's garden in 2003. Love the way it showed 2 forms of doubling on the same plant. Plus I have no idea how I got the dark background, happy accident!
Not sure about the Calcium Nitrate, he showed slides of several bags of things and that was one of them. I have yet to hit the nurseries and start searching. I bet it can be found easily. I'll let you know.

Melvindale, MI(Zone 5a)

Very good Sue. I copied this also. Thanks.

Lisbon, IA(Zone 5a)

Thank you Sue! I appreciate you taking the time to post that. :) Now I need to buy the soil test meter.:)


Lewisburg, KY(Zone 6a)

Where do you find the soil testers? It is $10.00 at the farm office.

Hillsboro, OH(Zone 6a)

I just bought some of the quickie ones at Lowe's for about $3 each. They have four vials in them for Alkaline, Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potash. I have no idea how great they are or if they tell you how to fix the problem but I figured for $6 (bought 2) it was worth a try.

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