Chesterton Tribune

If it is July, expect Japanese beetles

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July is for ..... just daylilies.

And probably those *%$!* Japanese beetles.

Originally cultivated in China more than 2,000 years ago for food, flowers and medicine, daylilies may be the easiest perennial of all to grow.

Coral, red, gold, tangerine, rose, pink, burgundy, purple, peach, melon, pumpkin, ivory -- the color choices and combinations (stripes, eyezones, edges and watermarks) are never-ending, and daylily flowers can range from less than 3 inches to 10 inches wide.

Usually blooming from late June into late summer, daylilies require no special care or soil, although they will bloom best in well-drained amended soil with a shot of spring fertilizer. They truly are an all-purpose plant that usually laughs at drought, disease and insects.

Daylilies -- each flower opening for just one day -- make excellent groundcovers, choking out weeds and stabilizing banks. This is how the popularity of the orange “ditch lilies” spread. But today’s rainbow colors, double petals, recurved shapes and heavy ruffling are a vast improvement.

For me, this insanity began when I stumbled upon an Oakes Daylilies catalog and was in Hemerocallis (the botanical name) Heaven. I now have 62 cultivars (a named plant unique to itself) and always covet more.

A few years ago I bought several daylilies at a fundraiser at Judy Kroczek’s in rural LaPorte County; her sales, which support charities, are by-appointment-only since a new gas pipeline devastated her gardens and she’s replanting them.

Daylilies are great mail-order plants, not overly worried how long they’re trapped in what often can be cardboard coffins. From various sources I’ve ordered the wildly popular pale pink “Barbara Mitchell,” yellow/red “Firestorm,” and the 8-inch spider “Lilting Lavender” with its long, narrow petals and lemon throat.

These acquisitions only fed, not curbed, my daylily lust.

To my joy, I then learned of our fine Coburg Planting Fields at 573 E. 600N in Porter County. Phil Brockington and Howard Reeve grow and sell about 1,000 different daylily cultivars; they even hybridize their own introductions. Some Coburg daylilies are pricey, but most average about $10 each or less. Coburg also ships via catalog sales.

My favorite Coburg purchases are “Red-Neck Steve,” a screaming bright red that bloomed over many weeks last year, and the deep lavender “Beyond the Blue,” the bluest I’ve yet seen. True blue and pure white so far have eluded daylily hybridizers.

Judy’s and Coburg dig your bare-root daylilies when you buy them. To minimize transplant sulk, especially on a very hot day, bring some damp soil or wet paper towels to cover the roots on the trip home. Plant the daylily quickly in a prepared site, spreading out the fleshy roots. If not, plant it in a holding pot.

In either case I trim back a few leaves and provide temporary shade if necessary by poking an opened newspaper over bamboo stakes to help relieve the sun’s stress on the new daylilies as they become established.

Perhaps the best thing about daylilies is that individual cultivars bloom either early, mid or late, and some even rebloom. This extends the daylily season for several months.

When choosing daylilies, look for how many times the flower stalk or “scape” branches, and how many unopened and spent buds you can count. Some scapes, like that of white-striped pale mauve “Lady Emily,” will branch several ways and bear almost 30 flowers on each stalk. Scape height also may be a factor as they vary from short to tall.

No matter how large and lush the flowers, daylily scapes don’t need staking, and although it isn’t necessary, the unopened flowers benefit if you carefully snap off each spent bloom at its base if the plant doesn’t drop them quickly by itself.

While most texts recommend growing daylilies in full sun, I was pleasantly surprised to see how much shade Judy’s daylilies tolerated. Deep shade will inhibit bloom, but dappled or half-day morning sun still generates quite a show.

When ordering daylilies by catalog, inquire first if there is any question whether the daylily will survive a bad Duneland winter. Doing this saved me from a costly mistake. If there’s no picture, you also might ask that they describe the color in more detail: one man’s peach is another man’s orange.

If you want to ease into daylilies without breaking the bank, Nora Bailey sells bare-root daylilies for $3.50 each by-appointment-only from her home just west of Deep River Park on Old Lincoln Highway in Lake County. A deep maroon daylily (Nora isn’t a stickler for names) labeled simply “Black” is lovely. Like Coburg, Nora also sells hostas.

This month the area garden walks begin, a popular way to get fresh ideas for tired yards.

Crown Point’s tenth annual walk is July 7 and 8. Seven homes are featured, including a waterfall, a hillside landscaped with thousands of rocks, and a Victorian garden. July 14 and 15 the garden clubs of Dyer, St. John and Schererville host a tri-town garden walk there. The Illiana Garden Pond Society is having an evening garden walk Aug. 3-5 showcasing regional water gardens.

Anyone looking for a wide selection of both lilac and Rose of Sharon shrubs can find them at Alsip Home and Garden in St. John on Indiana 41 (Indianapolis Boulevard) south of U.S. 30. The light mauve “Dappled Dawn” lilac had variegated green/gold leaves on its new growth, and “Charles Joly” boasted double magenta lilac flowers.

For three years I’ve tried to train my new “Sensation” lilac, its wine-purple flowers edged in white, as a tree. I sensed more frustration than cooperation on its part and last week decided to stop clipping off the new ground shoots.

“Sensation” is advertised as fragrant. but this plant barely registers a scent. Perhaps it was boycotting my efforts to make it something it was not by withholding that heady, unmistakable lilac smell. Wouldn’t it be sweet if next year “Sensation” truly lives up to its name?

 Posted 7/6/2001