dividing Daylilies




 (Our guest in the Neighborhood Garden today is Pat Underwood. Pat is the retired Plant Manager of Sam Hill Gardens in Malcolm, NE, and a Master Gardener.)


            Daylilies are an easy to grow, low maintenance perennial that comes in a variety of colors, sizes and shapes.  At the Gardens, we dug daylilies for customer orders from late April through August.

          Dividing daylilies is a necessary part of growing this perennial.  Division rejuvenates the plant and also provides you with additional plants that you can move to another location in your gardens or give to a friend or neighbor.  I'm often asked when is the best time to divide.  Because daylilies have a fibrous root and are not a bulb, you can do divisions any time during the growing season.  At the Gardens, I generally didn't get around to planting until mid to late August but you should divide when it best fits your schedule--spring or summer.  Since daylilies like warm soil, don't start too early in the spring.

          How often should you divide?  It is recommended that daylily clumps be divided every 3 to 5 years but I have had plants in the ground for 10 or more years.  As long as the plants are growing well and flowering satisfactorily, they don't need division.  At some point, though, bud count will decrease significantly and to restore flowering, you will need to divide.  Keep in mind, the older the clump, the bigger it will be and the harder it will be to divide.


          What is the division process?  There are several ways to divide a daylily depending on how frugal you are and how much time you want to spend.  At the Gardens, I strive for the most fans--individual plants.


The Frugal Division Method

This is the method I use:

        Cut back the foliage to about 6 inches above the base of the plant.  This helps to see the base of the plant better.  It also reduces the amount of top growth the plant needs to support after division and helps to minimize moisture loss through the leaves.

        Using a spade or shovel, dig a circle around the clump about 2 or 3 inches out from the base of the plant as deep as you can push the spade into the ground.  If the soil is particularly hard, spraying the digging area with a strong stream of water as you are digging helps the spade go in more easily and loosens the soil, making it easier to lift the clump.

        Gently and slowly lift the clump with the spade. Once the roots are free from the ground, shake or wash off as much soil from the roots at the site so you can replace the soil in the hole left by the clump. If soil remains on the roots, move the clump to a wash tub or some other container that can be filled with water and let the clump soak for a while to loosen the remaining soil.  Then spray off the remaining soil.

        Wiggle and twist the roots gently but firmly to separate the fans of the daylilies.  The roots are typically intertwined and will need a firm approach.  I avoid handling the plant by the foliage to avoid breaking it off.  Sometimes forcing a dandelion digger into the root mass helps loosen the roots.  Remove any broken roots and debris from the roots and around the crown.  Rinse.

        Now that the plant is separated into individual fans or groups of two or three, you are ready to replant.  You should replant as soon as possible. 

        Dig a hole to accommodate the bulk of the roots.  Plant shallowly.  The crown of the plant (the area where the roots emerge) should be no more than 1/4 to 1/2 inch below the surface.  Surround the roots with soil to avoid air pockets.  Firm the soil and water well.  If roots show after watering, add a little more soil. 

Keep in mind that when perennials are first planted, they focus their energies on establishing their root system.  So the first couple of years, you will have only a few blooms.  By the third year, you will have a really nice picture in your garden.  Because of this time table, I recommend planting two or three fans together in one hole so during those "lean" years, you will still have a pretty picture in the garden.          Using the frugal method does result in the destruction of root hairs.  Root hairs are necessary for absorption of nutrients and water so the plant will focus its energy to rebuild these roots.  As a result, you will see the outer leaves of the plant turning yellow within a few days.  This is normal.  Watch for new growth from the center of the fan.  Within six weeks, your daylily will be fully leafed out.


--The Quick Division Method

          Now hereís another approach which you can use to quickly divide a clump.  Simply chop the clump with a spade.  This method results in the loss of some plants but it save times and requires less work.  You just

-        dig down directly into the clump and chop off a section.

-        Move the section to a new location. 

-        Dig a hole big enough for the section and plant it. 

          With this method you may transfer plants, like weeds, that you donít want to the new site.  Sometimes moving a clump is done just to eliminate the bad stuff.  So if the parent clump is overgrown with weeds and grasses, I recommend using the first method allowing you to easily remove any grass or weed before replanting.

          Remember, dividing daylilies is a necessary part of growing daylilies but don't be intimidated by the process.  If you have never done it before, just get out that spade and chop away.  The daylilies will understand and thank you by rewarding you with new growth and more blooms than you can remember. 

Happy gardening.