Delightful daylilies: Sharpen your shovels then divide and conquer

Everyone’s garden favorite, the daylily, will perform better when divided every three to five years.

DaylilyAny respectable garden wouldn’t be complete without those dazzling beauties of summer, each lasting only a day: the humble daylily. With the incredible choice of color, height and season of bloom, daylilies bring sizzle to the summer garden and it is not a wonder they are one of America’s leading perennials.

The daylily’s no-fuss growing requirements not only make this group of plants great for the smart gardener, but it is usually the first plant people get started with in a perennial garden. Many homeowners may also be enjoying an aunt or grandmother’s “pass-along plants” that now reside along an existing fence or foundation. Either way, most perennials benefit from rejuvenation as much as an apple tree benefits from pruning, and early spring is a great time to do this.

As your garden matures, daylilies tend to form an over-sized clump that may not be flowering as well as it once did. Most daylilies benefit from being divided every three to five years, while others would rather not be bothered at all. The key to knowing when is to keep a watchful eye on the clump and determine whether or not it is performing as well as it once did.

When the shovel is sharp

Daylilies are not fussy about the time of year they get divided. Many daylily growers feel that “any time the shovel is sharp” is a good time, but spring time is excellent since the plants are just coming out of dormancy at this time and are eager to grow! The earlier the better, as this is one perennial that gets a jump on foliage development. The sooner you dig and divide the clump, the less likely you will be looking at crushed or tattered foliage during the growing season.

Newly divided daylilies
Newly divided daylilies as seen in this garden will out-perform old clumps.

If you miss the spring opportunity to do the dividing, don’t despair. Daylilies also put on another “flush” of growth after they bloom (about mid-summer) and will respond well to rejuvenation. After the plant is done blooming (this will vary from mid-June until late August, depending on the cultivar) you can simply cut back the foliage to about 8 inches with a pair of hedge shears. This will make it much easier to see what you are working with. Using a spading fork, loosen the soil around the clump and lift the entire clump from the ground. The fork is much better as it will not cut the fleshy roots.

Trim back foliage
Trim back foliage to about 6-8 inches and lift whole clump from the garden.

You can choose to split the clump in half, thirds or many pieces depending on its original size. The smallest division you make should have at least four “fans” of foliage. If you want to make your divisions larger, that’s OK, too. Some choose to discard the pieces from the center of the plant as these will be the most mature.

Separate small pieces
Using a sharp spade or garden fork, separate into smaller pieces having at least four fans and re-plant at original depth.

Before re-planting the pieces, it is wise to amend your soil with about 2 or 3 inches of well-rotted compost. Daylilies are hungry plants and benefit greatly from the slow-release form of nitrogen they will receive from this. The loose, amended soil will also encourage new roots to establish from your new plant as well. While most perennials do not benefit from a secondary dose of nutrient, Michigan State University Extension recommends supplemental feeding of this genus for best performance. (For more information, see the MSU Extension tip sheet “Fertilizing established perennials – feed ‘em and weep.”)

Nestle them in the garden with a good soaking and maintain soil moisture throughout summer and into the fall the first year after division. With the right care, the plants will reward you with increased bloom and healthy foliage that will put a smile on your face!

For more information on a wide variety of smart gardening articles, or to find out about smart gardening classes and events, visit and Finneran’s blog. You can contact the MSU Master Gardener Lawn and Garden Hotline at 888-678-3464 with your questions.

Photo credit for all photos: Rebecca Finneran, MSU Extension

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