Daylily gardeners were thrilled when the first reblooming daylily plant hit the market in the 1970s. Stella de Oro, created by Walter Jablonski in 1975, was an immediate hit not just for its new and rich yellow-gold color, but also for its reblooming habit.
While most daylilies bloom only for a short time during the growing season, leaving behind a ragged mass of long, grassy foliage, Stella de Oro blooms continuously, that is, with the proper maintenance. I’ve been growing Stellas for five years, but it took the first two of those years to learn the craft of keeping them blooming all season long: deadheading.
When my daylilies begin to bloom in late spring, I am on the spent blossoms like a beagle on a fox. In one day this season, I removed 167 faded blossoms from a planting that measured only six feet long by two feet wide. Two days later, I removed 285 spent blossoms from the same planting. Yes, I counted them all.
Without removing the spent flowers throughout the growing season, the Stella de Oro daylily plants will become a sea of ugly greens and dull, dead, brown sticks with few to no blooms.
Deadheading Is the Key to Continuous Stella de Oro Blooming
Deadheading is the practice of removing old blossoms before they have a chance to produce seeds. It is a form of pruning that encourages flowering plants to put their energies into producing more blossoms, thereby promoting an extended display of form and color in the garden.
Without deadheading, re-blooming daylily plants put their energies into producing seed instead of blossoms, leaving you with a ratty display of plant material. However, there is a right and a wrong way to deadhead daylilies. First, let’s do a quick lesson of the parts of the daylily that are involved in deadheading.
Know Your Stella de Oro Anatomy
This is the stalk that produces the daylily blooms. One Stella de Oro scape may produce as many as a dozen buds.
The bud is the immature flower. For the most part, only one bud on every scape will bloom per day, although a scape will not necessarily produce a fully formed flower every day. In other words, if there are eight buds on a scape, the scape may produce blossoms over a two-week period or longer.
The part of the plant that attaches a daylily flower to the scape is the flower stem or pedicel.
If you haven’t grown daylilies before, you may mistake a one-day-old blossom for a bud about to bloom. Both are similar in color and shape; however, the old blossom will not have the fresh aspect of a bud about to bloom and the tips of the petals will show a watery, translucent appearance. Don’t worry though. With practice, you will learn quickly!
This one is easy to spot. It’s completely withered and dry. Three-day-old blossoms look much the same, only more withered. Both are still attached to the plant, but without deadheading, the spent petals will drop off the scape and create a mess under the greens. Worse, these older dropping petals will be a sure sign that the plant is producing seed and taking the plant’s energy away from blossoming.
This slightly swollen area at the bottom of the flower is where seed will be produced if fertilization is successful.
Exhibit 1a: The Ovary With Spent Blossom Still Attached
Exhibit 1b: The Developing Ovary With Spent Blossom Removed
How to Deadhead Stellas for Continuous Bloom
Deadheading a daylily plant means removing both a spent blossom and its ovary from the scape by detaching the blossom from its flower stem or detaching the flower stem from the scape.
1. Snapping or Pinching off
You can pinch through the flower stem with your thumb and index finger or snap the flower stem off the scape in a quick, downward motion. When you need to deadhead your way through 285 spent blossoms, snapping and pinching make the most sense. However, until you’re well-practiced with these techniques, you will be more likely to damage the scape and dislodge neighboring immature buds.
You can use a small, sharp pair of scissors to cut through the flower stem. This method is more time-consuming but causes less damage to the scape and its remaining buds.
1. Don’t Let the Dry, Withered, Oldest Petals Fool You
You will find that the withered petals of two- and three-day-old spent blossoms come away more easily than those of one-day-old spent blossoms. In fact, when touched, the older faded petals almost fall away by themselves, but the ovary is left behind, still attached to the flower stem. The ovary must be removed, by snapping, pinching, or cutting, to prevent the production of seed and encourage new Stella de Oro scape and bud growth.
2. Plan to Deadhead at Least Every Third Day
Every other day is best to make sure you nip the ovaries in the bud, so to speak, but you will get into your own rhythm based on your finickiness and schedule. Try not to panic at the thought of this effort, because after the first riotous weeks of blossom production, things will slow down and you won’t be removing hundreds of faded blooms every two days. Only dozens, perhaps.