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.

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. I’ve learned my lessons
via the school of making more mistakes than I’d 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 “things to do” 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. I’ve found inexpensive PH meters to be rather accurate when I compare them to lab tests of
the same beds I’ve just tested with my el cheepo meter. In addition to the accurate PH test the laboratory will
provide for you it’s important to get a baseline of what nutrition and element levels are present in you beds. You
can’t 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 I’ll 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 “balanced” 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. They’re 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 it’s important to add what I’ll 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 it’s important to get these “major Minors” 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.  It’s
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 can’t feed too much in the summer due to the excessive heat, so
most of the feeding takes place from November through March.

I’ve found liquid feeding modest amounts of plant food very often to work wonders. It’s also important to vary
the product applied. A Peter’s 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. (Can’t 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!