FROM SEED — Pots of 10-month old seedlings grow in flower pots in the center photo while the flowers of a mature “Dark Prince” are shown in the bottom right inset. At top left, a seed pod ripens. (Photos courtesy Cornell Cooperative Ext. of Oneida County)

Growing daylilies from seed is easy and inexpensive

Published Sep 3, 2017 at 9:00am

Daylilies deliver an abundance of beautiful flowers, require little care, and are edible perennials nearly free from pests. What’s more, they are an easy and inexpensive way to expand your garden and create your very own hybrids!  

Native to Asia, daylilies were brought to America where they are now grown across the entire United States. They are highly adaptable to various soil types and cold-hardy, with tens of thousands of varieties now in existence.

As their name suggests, daylily blossoms typically only last a day, each bloom peaking from dawn to dusk. Fear not, for a mature plant will reward you with dozens of continual flowers for years to come. Diverse in shape, scent, and coloration, modern daylilies range from spidery-shaped petals to decoratively-edged frilly ruffles, with various colors.

If daylilies currently occupy your yard, begin the process by pollinating flowers during summer months. They are not commonly self-fertile, so be sure to select two different plants for best results. Hand pollinate by removing a pollen-covered anther (male part) and transferring the yellow “dust” to the sticky stigma of another plant’s flower. This female part will be at the end of a single filamentous structure protruding from the flower’s center. Allow the flower to naturally die off and as the week progresses, the bases will swell into bulbous 3-lobed green seedpods.

As they ripen over the next six to eight weeks, seedpods begin to turn yellow then brown, dry out and then finally begin to split open. Inside you will find shiny black seeds which are collected in early September. Allow the seeds to air dry shortly before storing them in a closed container in a cool, dry place.

Some seeds require a short cold spell to germinate, which can be mimicked by placing them in a refrigerator for five or six weeks. Alternatively, a good option is to purchase seeds online which offer unique crosses of registered cultivars, typically priced less than a dollar per seed.

There are various ways to begin sprouting daylily seeds — some gardeners choose to directly plant them in the garden, but starting the process indoors via a sunny windowsill is my preferred method.

To begin indoors you will need: potting soil, small potting containers w/drainage holes, distilled or bottled water, hydrogen peroxide (3%), plastic bags and perlite. Partially fill a plastic bag with one cup of perlite and fully moisten the media with water and a cap’s worth of hydrogen peroxide (half teaspoon), which acts as an anti-microbial protectant. Mix in your seeds, drain any standing water, seal the bags and place in a southern-facing windowsill. If known, label your cross (pod parent X pollen parent is standard denotation).

Gently open bags every couple of days for fresh air and a light water spritz if necessary. Roots will emerge first and when green leaves begin growing (this may take days or weeks), plant the sprouts in potting soil, 1/4-1/2” deep. You may skip this bag process and directly place seeds in small potting containers, point end facing down, at the same depth.

It’s best to keep your seedlings indoors as winter approaches. Although they require little attention and take up minimal space, here you can monitor their health and hydration; never allow them to dry out but do not overwater — about once per week should suffice. Monthly fertilizer will enhance growth. Be watchful of pests, especially tiny spider mites indoors on younger plants and aphids on older plants outdoors, which this can be remedied with miticide/insecticidal soaps. 

Once spring arrives and threat of frost passes, your seedlings will be ready for the garden or transplanted into larger containers. Acclimate the seedlings gradually by first placing in shaded areas, then partial shade before increasing the amount to full sun.

Most will not show their true potential until two years of age, but soon you can look for desirable traits — vigorous growth habits, flower quantity and quality. For pet owners, daylilies belong to the Hemerocallis plant genus, which are considered toxic to cats. But for humans, they are a wonderful & exciting plant to grow, with the potential for an exquisite brand new hybrid to call your own! Remember, each seed will grow into a genetically unique plant, therefore some growers choose to name and register their daylily creations, often in honor or memory of a family member or friend.