The Beauty of the Lilies

First you see the old barn that’s painted pink. Then you see acres of daylilies in orange, red, purple, peach, cream, yellow, gold, apricot, white, lavender and tangerine. You’ve arrived at the Bethlehem Flower Farm, grower of some of the prettiest and hardiest daylilies in the Northeast.

If Michelle Schafer had to pick her favorite daylily out of the 350 varieties she grows, it would be the Carolyn Criswell. “It’s a light yellowy, ruffly lily with petals that almost look diamond-dusted,” she says. “But each year I have a different favorite. Last year it was the blackish red Ed Murray. There are so many beautiful ones.”

Wander through the fields of the Bethlehem Flower Farm and you’ll see that’s true. If you manage to make a decision and decide to buy, Michelle and her helpers will dig you a mature plant that’s likely to bloom this year, or for sure next year. And the plant will have three or four fans of leaves; not the one or two some companies give.
Because the plant has survived winters in Bethlehem, which is in planting zone 3, you know it’s winter-hardy. “They have to live through the winter up here before we sell,” she says. “I’d be livid if I bought a plant and it didn’t live.”

The daylily business, this year marking its 20th anniversary, started quite by accident. Michelle’s mother-in-law Joan had an ice cream shop in the old barn on Route 302. To pretty it up, Joan planted some of the daylilies she had been raising. Soon her ice cream customers were asking to buy the daylilies. Michelle calls it “a hobby that got out of control.”

For years, she helped out her mother-in-law on the farm and, three years ago, bought it from her. “I fell in love with it,” she says. “It’s so beautiful.” Joan, a member of the American Hemerocallis Society, still comes in at least a day a week and makes trips around New England to look for new varieties of daylilies.

One variety Michelle feels will be popular this year is the Spider Miracle, an award winner with an unusual form. It’s light yellow with huge nine-inch flowers with petals that look like banana peels. It’s so big, Michelle says, that you can stand 20 feet away and see it. Other popular varieties — Fairy Tale Pink, which is soft pink with ruffles, and Stella d’Oro, a fast-grower that re-blooms in the same season.

Prices in the daylily world can reach as high as $250 for a single fan, but Michelle’s prices are nowhere near that. Hers range from $5-$20. Plus, you can propagate your own daylilies from the plants you buy, especially if you get what are called “good clumpers.” Michelle says: “Just put them in the ground and they’ll grow. A single fan, if it’s a good plant, will get three or four fans the next year. And then they’ll double the next year.” After that you can separate them and plant them again.

She says to separate the plants, dig them up and shake the soil off the roots. Take a sharp knife and slice them right down the middle (“we don’t show them much love”) so you have at least two good sturdy fans coming out of the root. You can divide to a single fan, but it’ll take twice as long to see a good bloom. Cut the leaves to about an inch away from the roots so the energy goes into growing the roots rather than keeping the leaves green.

Do the dividing any time there’s no frost in the ground, but stop transplanting in mid-September (at least if you’re in Bethlehem) so you don’t have to worry about the weather. “We have dug up plants and left them out of the ground — don’t do this — for two weeks,” says Michelle. “They were a little stunted, but they came back. Daylilies are really super-hardy. My joke is, one day they’ll be labeled an invasive species and I’ll be out of business.”

More tips from Michelle:

Plants are sold dry-rooted (without soil) and wrapped in plastic. Daylilies will survive a week or more this way, but if they’re not planted in the first few days, soak the plants in water overnight before planting.

If planted after mid-summer, daylilies may require a season to develop their root systems and may not flower.

Plant daylilies in a location where they will get at least six hours of sun each day. They’ll survive but not flower in heavy shade.

Plant about two feet apart in well-drained soils. Don’t plant or mulch too deeply. Plant so the soil level is less than one inch above the crown (the point where the roots and foliage meet).

When planting, spread the roots and place soil between them. Water well when planting, and water new plants as required for the first month.

Daylilies prefer slightly acidic soil. You can mix peat moss into the soil to add acid and increase drainage, then mulch with peat moss to control weeds. Watch out for grasses with white roots, sometimes called witch grass, because they have running roots that will burrow through and finally choke out a daylily.

Use an all-purpose fertilizer. Be sure to fertilize one month after peak bloom since this is when the plans are preparing next season’s growth.

Daylilies have to be in the ground to survive winter; pots or planters don’t provide adequate protection. When the foliage dies in late fall, don’t remove it because it provides a winter mulch.

For a summer-long blooming season, select daylilies with different blooming times. They range from early to late summer.

Plan to put yellows and oranges far away — they’ll show up better. Put pinks, lighter yellows and lighter purples closer. Give all the plants lots of space to grow in. The bigger the plant, the bigger the bloom will be.

Other Daylily Suppliers:

Davis Brook Farm, 106 Bonds Corner Rd., Hancock
(603) 525-4728,

Daylily Meadows, 113 Rte. 101A Amherst (603) 889-6400

Golden Meadows, 22 Clement Rd. Somersworth, (603) 742-5134

Black Brook Farm & Gardens
376 Martin Meadow Pond Rd. Lancaster, (603) 837-2173

Wayside Farm, 506 Whiteface Rd. North Sandwich, (603) 284-6886

Madeline White, 227 Airport Rd. Concord, (603) 224-7309

Merrymeeting Garden Center Rte. 11, New Durham
(603) 859-3030

Rolling Green Nursery, 64 Breakfast Hill Rd., Greenland (603) 436-2732

Bethlehem Flower Farm Opens May 26

There are 150 varieties available at the flower farm, with blooms ranging from two to nine inches across. The cost ranges from $5 to $15 for a small clump. Usually you need to wait a season to have blooms. Your plants will be ready to divide in three years and, if you have used the marked stakes (shown above), you can share your bounty, by name, with friends.

You can go online now at to view varieties and order online. In honor of the flower farm’s 20th year, owner Michelle Schafer is digging into her family’s private garden to offer daylily enthusiasts very special plants.