Fertilizing Options

Over the years I have tried many different fertilization methods. Some were better than others and some were a lot more work than others. I'm going to try and outline some options here along with what I think are the pros and cons of each. That way you can decide what works best for you.

Method 1 - the chemical fertilizers

Probably the easiest method is the way I started - treat once or twice a year with a low cost chemical fertilizer. IMPORTANT: when using granular fertilizer you should not broadcast it over the foliage. A single granule of fertilizer down in the center of the fan can damage or even kill a daylily. Instead, spread the granules on the ground around the plants (3-6" from plant is good).

In the south the best time to fertilize is in the fall as soon as it starts to cool down a little with a second (optional) application in the early spring. In the north it's best to fertilize in the spring when the daylilies first start growing. A second application can be applied after the peak bloom but should not be put down less than 6-8 weeks before the first freeze date.

What to use:

  • Granular lawn fertilizer (15-5-10) or similar. Avoid products with high middle number as phosphorus can build up in your soil over time (not good).

  • Granular all-purpose balanced fertilizer (13-13-13)

  • Milorganite (sometimes your local area has its own version)

  • Osmocote or similar timed-release fertilizer (avoid the ones with a high middle number). Osmocote is more expensive than the other options but has the advantage of releasing the nutrients slowly over time.

Pros: quick and easy and relatively inexpensive (unless using Osmocote)
Cons: does little or nothing to improve the soil

Method 2 - the all organic approach

The objective of the organic method is to feed your soil and make it healthy. Good healthy soil in turn, feeds your daylilies. The organic approach can be labor intensive and locating all the materials can present problems. Still, even if only parts of the program can be implemented it will produce great daylilies. I have used the following method and numerous variants of it.

The simplest method is to prepare an entire bed prior to planting, adding the various organic products and working or tilling it all in. I have done this a few times but with a full time day job I have to do it one planting hole at a time as I seldom have the time to rework an entire bed.

For the hole-by-hole method, dig the planting hole at least 12" deep and 12-18" wide. Add your organic materials and turn the soil repeatedly to mix well. Then you're ready to plant.

There are lots of good organic materials that can be added to your soil. Here are a few:

  • Cottonseed Meal - provides nitrogen but it takes a while for it to become available to the plant

  • Alfalfa Pellets - provides micro-nutrients as well as some amino acids which are reported to promote vigorous growth. Should be used sparingly in warmer climates as it can heat up during decomposition.

  • Milorganite - an organic slow-release organic fertilizer with an average NPK of 6.75-2.65-0.46. It also contains many micro-nutrients.

  • Agricultural Molasses - a bio-stimulator which stimulates the growth of micro-organisms in the soil. Micro-organisms are essential for good soil and plant health.

  • Composted manures (horse, cow, rabbit, chicken, sheep, etc) - contains nutrients and micro-organisms.

  • Other compost - leaf mold, mushroom compost, vermicompost (from earthworm farming), and if you have the room, make your own home grown compost

  • Humate - granular or powder

Pros: feeds the soil and it's the soil that best feeds your plants.
Cons: it can be time consuming to gather the organic composts and materials and more work is involved in preparing the soil.

Organically fertilizing existing plants can be done by placing the organic materials around the plants and covering with compost. The compost also acts as a mulch.

Method 3 - the combination method

This is the method that works best for me. It's basically a combination of the two methods. I try and stay as organic as possible but have started using Osmocote around the plants in the fall and prior to mulching in the spring.