Hemerocallis fulva, commonly known as Tiger Daylily
Parents know that when children aren’t getting along it’s time to divide them. The same goes for many perennials that refuse to make room for other plants in the garden. And daylilies are one of the biggest offenders; quickly crowding out other, more tender species, with their big, drooping foliage. But don’t despair. Just follow the simple steps below and you’ll have things back under control in a jiffy.
Tough and reliable, daylilies are the quintessential summer perennial. With minimal care, they’ll flower all season long and look good in formal and informal landscapes and many a coastal garden. In the past few years, the introduction of many re-blooming varieties have made them stars of the late summer border as well.
However, over time, you may notice that your daylilies have grown too large for their space and aren’t blooming like they used to. Or, as their clumps expand, they are crowding out other plants around them. This happened to me recently when I lifted up an overgrown clump of ‘Happy Returns’ (pictured below) to find a few Heuchera ‘Obsidian’ underneath. All but forgotten, they were hanging on to life by a thread.
If this scenario sounds familiar, it’s time to divide your daylilies.
Tips for dividing
It’s pretty hard to kill daylilies (I’ve left clumps out, unplanted, for an entire winter and they still flowered come summer.) However, to play by the rules, most experts advise dividing them right after they flower, or in late summer or early fall.
Depending on your soil type, daylilies can be tough to dig out. In the case of the heavy clay soils here in Maryland, I prefer to use a long, narrow shovel with a platform step for my foot. This seems to be the right length for getting under the daylily while providing me with a little extra leverage.
Start by inserting the shovel into the soil about 6 inches away from the roots. Dig around in a circle, gently prying up the plants as you go. Once the plants are loosened, slide the shovel horizontally underneath the clump and cut it from the ground.
TIP: Most times I dig the whole clump up and immediately begin dividing. However, you can save a little time by leaving a small sized clump in the ground.
Once you’ve removed the clump, you have two choices. You can simply cut the mass into smaller groups, leaving the soil on. Just dig new holes and replant. (Don’t worry if you cut through a few of the roots. The plants will do fine.)
Or, you can remove the dirt from around the roots and pry the plants apart. I prefer this latter way because it gives me an opportunity to tease out the roots and replant my divisions in fresh soil.
If the clump is a large one (which it probably is if you’re dividing it), then 4 to 5 fans (green sections) is a good number. This will ensure you get blooms the next year.
But, there’s no reason you can’t break the clump down to single fans if you’re looking to fill a big area. You may have to wait a year to see new flowers, though.
Not really a step, but very important: No matter how many divisions you choose, always leave a fan attached to the roots. Without it, the daylily won’t grow.
Finally, replant your divisions 12′ to 18′ apart (remember, daylilies grow fast), adding compost or LeafGro to the soil. Then build a small mound under your transplant and fan the daylily roots out into the soil. Cut the foliage back to around 4 to 6 inches, water generously and look forward to next summer’s abundant new blooms!