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Daylilies decoded: How to decipher those cryptic codes when choosing your plants

Understanding daylily codes can help you choose the right daylily cultivar for a particular garden scheme. The Yabba Dabba Do daylily is pictured here.
Understanding daylily codes can help you choose the right daylily cultivar for a particular garden scheme. The Yabba Dabba Do daylily is pictured here.

Pretty. This is the defining factor many gardeners rely on when it comes to buying daylilies. But beyond such an obvious, desirable attribute – and much like the shadows and whispers that mysteriously weave their way through an irresistible spy novel – there are strange codes often found on container labels and online descriptions associated with daylily cultivars that, to the knowing, help to determine what makes a good-looking daylily an ideal one for a particular garden scheme.

More than glorified gobbledygook meant to be understood only by elitist gardeners, these small bits of mystery actually provide more answers than questions. And since now is a good time to buy and plant these beauties, here are some of the more common decoded daylily codes to watch for:

▪ EE – Extra Early: An indicator of bloom time relative to the growing season. In this case, an EE daylily is the first to flower, usually around mid-May in the Piedmont. This eager starter is followed by E (Early), EM (Early Midseason), M (Midseason), ML (Late Midseason), L (Late) and VL (Very Late) daylilies, with VL selections normally not bringing any blooms to the garden party until the summer really starts to simmer in July. Obviously, selecting a wide range of these time travelers can extend the pleasure of the daylily garden for months.

▪ RE – Rebloom (or Remontant): Many daylily gardeners in the know seek RE cultivars because, after their first fabulous flush of flowers, they refuse to slip into a visual slumber of simple green foliage. Rebloomers will put on a second or continuing show, but for the best displays, they often need a little help in the form of additional fertilizer and regular waterings when the rains don’t come. Deadheading spent blossoms will also result in better follow-up flower displays from reblooming daylilies.

▪ EV – Evergreen: As advertised, the foliage of an EV daylily is capable of remaining green through typical Southeast winters. One step down, an SEV selection is a semi-evergreen daylily that might retain its leaves in a mild winter and probably won’t if the shortest days of the year are abnormally cold. And no matter what the winter is like, a DOR (Dormant) daylily will lose its leaves after the first autumn frost. Note that it is probably a good idea to mark the locations of SEV and DOR daylilies before the growing season winds down so they won’t be dug up during the planting frenzy the following spring.

▪ FR – Fragrant: Yep, some daylilies are actually sweetly scented. However, this perfumed pleasure can range from the slightest of slight lovely smells to an obvious olfactory awakening. Daylilies that are deemed to be especially infused with enjoyable aromas are often tagged VFR – Very Fragrant.

▪ TET – Tetraploid: Consider this a super daylily, if you will. There are two types of daylilies, Tetraploids and Diploids (DIP), with tetraploids having twice the sets of chromosomes than diploids. Without wading deep into DNA oogum-boogum, it simply means that TET cultivars tend to have larger flowers with brighter colors supported on stronger stems. This is not to suggest Diploids are weaklings, however, because, among their ranks, a gardener can find some of the prettiest pinks as well as many of the more popular double flowers and long-petal spiders.

▪ NOC – Nocturnal: Now we’re heading into strange territory – daylilies that wait until the late afternoon to open. These are night-blooming daylilies, the pretty oxymorons that greet 9-to-5 workers with fresh displays of cheerful flowers when they return home to their gardens. More than just an “Addams Family” favorite, nocturnal cultivars can add special magic to any garden scheme meant to shine under the stars.

▪ EXT – Extended: Another daylily that rejects normal. Unlike typical daylilies with blooms that fade in the setting sun, extended selections refuse to call it a quits as dark approaches. Extended cultivars have blossoms that remain open at least 16 hours, meaning, much like nocturnal daylilies, they will show off fresh blooms deep into the night. Interestingly, there are also EXT NOC daylilies that continue to flaunt their flower shows all through the night and well into the following morning. These are great daylilies for early bird gardeners who enjoy strolling through their plant beds in the glory of the rising sun.

L.A. Jackson is the former editor of Carolina Gardener magazine.