JARS v55n2 - Daylilies: Companion Plants for Rhododendrons?

Daylilies: Companion Plants for Rhododendrons?
John Kaylor
Keymar, Maryland

When most people think about companion plants for rhododendrons, they think of hollies, hostas and pines. However, I have found in my garden that daylilies are great companion plants for rhododendrons and azaleas. Daylilies possess five characteristics that make them favorites in my yard.

First, the peak bloom for daylilies is after the peak bloom for azaleas and most rhododendrons. Daylily blooming peaks between mid-June and mid-July in my mid-Atlantic, USDA Zone 6 garden. This works great in my yard because it provides color after the azaleas are finished and before the annuals can really start to show. An added benefit is that many of the newer daylilies are repeat bloomers so that they can provide color right up until frost.

Second, daylilies will fill those spots in the garden where rhododendrons will struggle. Do you have a sunny spot or an area that is too dry for rhododendrons? Try putting some daylilies there. Daylilies love full sun and don't mind less than perfect growing conditions. I had a clump that I had dug and placed on the driveway, then forgot, only to be found a month later because it was blooming. It was planted and continues to grow. I don't recommend this treatment, but it does demonstrate their tenacity to survive.

Third, daylilies save time and money. I have started to use daylilies in place of annuals in many of my gardens. By doing so, I don't have to purchase and plant as many new annuals year after year. This saves my pocketbook and my back. Also, with the experiences of two recent summers of drought fresh in my mind, daylilies are perennials that do not require a lot of extra watering. This allowed me to concentrate on watering my rhododendrons and azaleas without running the well dry. The daylilies didn't thrive, but I didn't lose one. Many other plants did die, including many of the rhododendrons that I watered. In addition, daylilies are very disease resistant. They don't require special care or spraying. There are no comparable problems in daylilies like azalea lace bugs or petal blight. You can enjoy daylilies without pampering them throughout the years.

Fourth, daylilies are fun. Daylilies multiply quickly so you always have some to share with your friends and family. They also are easy to hybridize. The flower parts are much larger and the seeds are the size of small peas, not specks of pepper like rhododendrons. They also will bloom in their second year from seed when started inside during the winter, whereas rhododendrons can take three to ten years for the first bloom. Few things are as enjoyable in the garden (okay, the first tomato of the season is at the top of the list) as seeing that first bloom on a plant that you hybridized and that is unique to your garden.

Finally, daylilies are no longer the orange flowers that you remember from your grandmother's garden. Daylilies now come in all shapes, sizes and colors. They can be 12 inches (30 cm) tall or 6 feet (2 m) tall. They can be yellow, red, pink, purple, near white and almost black. The flower colors also appear in many patterns. They can have bold edges and contrasting eyes or even dots and stripes. In addition, the breeders have developed many different flower shapes. They can be round like a bagel, very narrow and long like a spider, single or double or any combination. They can even have ruffles, pleating and teeth on the petals. My grandmother would be amazed by the new daylilies.

Thus, I would encourage everyone to try some new daylilies in their garden. It is hard to find a perennial that can provide as much color and survive with neglect. I believe that you will find that daylilies can be excellent companion plants for rhododendrons and will increase your enjoyment of your garden.

Some of the newer daylilies that I would recommend are:
'Custard Candy' – Award winning cream yellow with maroon eye.
'Daring Dilemma' – Light pink with purple eye and edge.
'Fortune's Dearest' – Purple with white sharks tooth edge.
'Joan Senior' – Award winning near white.
'Malaysian Monarch' – Purple with large yellow eye.
'Orange Velvet' – Large ruffled orange.
'Strawberry Candy' – Award winning strawberry pink with dark pink eye.
'Siloam Double Classic' – Bright pink double.
'Wedding Band' – Cream white with yellow edge.