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Thursday, July 10, 2003 02:20 pm

Beauty for a day

The faithful blooming daylily

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While there is no perfect flowering perennial, the daylily comes close. Classified in the genus Hemerocallis, which in Greek means "beautiful for a day," the plants may produce flowers for several weeks, but each flower lasts for only a single day.

Daylilies are tough, long-lived plants. Tall orange daylilies are a familiar site along roadsides and old farmsteads. Growing as if wild, these daylilies are most commonly orange and yellow. But thanks to horticulturists like Dr. Arlow B. Stout--recognized as the founder of the modern hybrid daylily--the flowers now come in a wide array of colors. Hybrid daylilies can be white, pink, crimson, red, lavender, deep purple, green, cream yellow, gold, peach, pumpkin orange, and even black. They can also bloom in two-tones and a range of throat and petal shades. Flowers are 2 to 6 inches in diameter.

Adaptable and fairly self-sufficient, daylilies are one of the easiest perennial flowers to grow. Modern daylilies will flower best in eight hours or more of sunlight, though they will also bloom in part shade. I have common orange daylilies flowering on the north side of my house, where they receive about three hours of sunlight.

Daylilies prefer well-drained, moderately fertile soil that is kept evenly moist, but they will survive in a wide range of soil conditions. Though they're fairly drought tolerant, they will bloom best if provided with one inch of water per week. They benefit from a three- to four-inch layer of mulch.

The American Hemerocallis Society has more than 41,000 registered daylilies offering bloom periods from late spring to late summer. With such a large selection, gardeners shouldn't have a problem selecting the right daylily for their landscape. Daylilies can be used in the front or the back of the perennial garden, as foundation plantings, or as groundcovers. Plant sizes range from six inches to four feet tall.

Some repeat blooming daylilies include Stella d'Oro, Happy Returns, Bitsy, and Yellow Lollipop. Division of repeat blooming plants every two or three years will guarantee the most flowers per plant.

Dead flowers distract from the plant and should be removed by pinching them off--this is critical to get repeat blooms. When all flowering is finished on a stem it should be cut back to the foliage.

Daylilies have relatively few insect or disease problems. If leaves appear damaged or diseased, remove them immediately.

Plant prices range from a few dollars to $150 for Angels Realm, a cultivar from Klehm's Song Sparrow Perennial Farm Catalog, based in Avalon, Wisconsin. Developed by Brother Charles Rekamp, Angels Realm is a new, rare daylily featuring six-inch blooms that are a pleasingly pastel blend with afternoon pink highlights, gold ruffling, green throat, and a slight fragrance.

If you have a passion for daylilies, consider joining the Central Illinois Daylily Society; for more information, contact Sandy Gabriel at 498-7320. For a complete listing of daylily Web sites, visit daylilies.com.

Master gardeners host walk

One of the best ways to get ideas for your own garden is to see what others have done. Master Gardeners of the University of Illinois Extension, Sangamon-Menard Unit, will be hosting a garden walk at 917 West Lake Drive on Sunday, July 13, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., rain or shine.

Come and be inspired by a unique 30-acre estate, with plantings in both sun and shade, formal- and "natural"-style gardens (including seven acres of prairie plantings), perennial and annual flower beds, a large cutting garden and a small fruit garden, and both mature and new growth areas.

All plants will be labeled, and the master gradeners will answer all questions. The rose garden has more than 30 cultivars of hybrid teas, and the extensive shady areas include massive plantings of both pachysandra and hydrangeas.

Tickets are $8 in advance, $10 on the day of the walk. Tickets are available at Marine Bank branches and the Uof I Extension offices. For more information, contact 782-4617. Proceeds benefit master garden projects in the Sangamon-Menard Unit.

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