Some of my daffodils had unusually short flower stalks this year. Now, I’m seeing oddly short flower stalks on some of my daylilies. Can you suggest any solutions for returning to normal stalk length for 2017?
Bulbs like daffodils and tulips will often have very short flower stalks if they do not get enough cold winter weather. Tulips are much more susceptible than daffodils, but I’ve seen it happen with both. Our winter last year was not terribly atypical, although we did have 70-degree days into late December, so I doubt that was your problem.
More likely for both of your plants is overcrowding. From your photo, it looks as though you have not divided your daylily in many years. Daylilies will benefit from division every 3 to 4 years. The process is easy: simply dig them up and split them apart into smaller pieces and replant. If you have extras, share them with a friend. Typically you would want to do the division a bit earlier in fall so the roots have some time to recover, but daylilies are tough and should be fine. Since you probably don’t know exactly where your daffodils are, you will likely need to wait until they have emerged and start dying back to divide them.
Can lilacs be grown here?
I was surprised to see lilacs growing in a garden in Chapel Hill; this was a favorite of mine when I lived in the North. Could you recommend varieties that can tolerate the heat and also advise how to propagate from this existing bush?
You have asked the question most voiced by displaced Northerners as they move down to the sunny South. Lilacs typically dislike our high heat and humidity and are usually covered in powdery mildew when grown here.
The U.S. National Arboretum has released a few hybrid lilacs, which are about as close as you can get to the Syringa vulgaris, or common lilac. The white ‘Betsy Ross’ has been a great grower here in Raleigh. Two newer selections, the reddish-purple ‘Declaration’ and the bluish-purple ‘Old Glory,’ look like they will be winners as well. Others that have proven to grow well include the dwarf ‘Miss Kim,’ the re-blooming ‘Penda,’ which is sold as Bloomerang, and the harder to find species, S. oblata.
Lilac propagation can be quite difficult from cuttings, so ideally you could acquire a small division or rooted sucker from the plant in Chapel Hill. Cuttings should be taken early in the season before the leaves fully open, treated with a commercial rooting compound and kept under mist.
Failing to thrive peonies
I have a peony that has been in the same location for more than 20 years. It seems to be going backwards the last couple of years. Do peonies reach an age that it is time to let it go, or should I move and divide the plant. I know peonies don’t like to be moved.
Herbaceous peonies are very long-lived garden specimens, and I’ve seen old abandoned homesteads where the only indication that a garden once existed is the presence of peonies and some daffodils.
Two factors often affect old peonies and reduce the blooming: overcrowding or being shaded out by trees, which have grown around them over the years after they were planted. Whether dividing peonies or moving them to a new spot, remove the soil from around the fleshy roots and give them a good soaking. Once the water has drained away, look for good spots where the crowns will separate easily and make a nice clean cut. Replant the divisions in a sunny spot making sure to plant them right side up – a harder task than it sounds with fully dormant crowns – and with the top of the crown no more than 1 to 2 inches deep. Planting too deep will prevent your peony from flowering.
Mark Weathington is the director of the JC Raulston Arboretum at N.C. State University in Raleigh. Info: jcra.ncsu.edu. Please send your garden questions, including the city where you garden, to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Common name: Betsy Ross hybrid lilac
Botanical name: Syringa ‘Betsy Ross’
Family: Olive (Oleaceae)
Category: Flowering shrub
Primary uses: Specimen, windbreak, bonsai
Dimensions: 6 to 8 feet tall and wide, but it can be kept pruned to 4 to 5 feet if desired
Culture: Sun. Lilacs all prefer a bright, sunny spot with good air circulation. Lilacs prefer a soil pH close to neutral, so some lime in most central N.C. gardens will be preferred. Prune immediately after flowering to control size and form.
Bloom time: Late March through mid April
General attributes: This lovely U.S. National Arboretum introduction bears spade-shaped, deep green, thick-textured foliage on a mounded shrub. The pure white, fragrant flowers emerge with the leaves in early spring. The hybrid between the heat tolerant S. oblata and another unknown lilac is quite powdery mildew resistant and is among the best substitutes for the common lilac.