Darrel Apps has been breeding daylilies for almost 40 years. Photo: Bob Blew, Centerton Nursery
For years, Southern gardeners had the best luck with Hemerocallis. There were literally thousands of cultivars in the trade. But these Southern beauties were poor performers north of the Mason-Dixon Line.
A transformation in daylily hybridizing occurred in the late 1990s when Darrel Apps introduced “Rosy Returns,” a hardy selection that performed well in USDA Hardiness Zone 4. Besides its hardiness trait, this revolutionary plant offered multiple-repeat blossoms and an alternative color – yellow and orange daylilies proliferated the market. The rosy-pink flowers have a deeper-rose eye zone and a yellow throat.
Apps continued to evaluate and select repeat flowerers for Northern climates, providing growers and retailers with a new market for daylilies.
“There’s a huge market in the North with cities like Boston, Chicago and Philadelphia. I’m most interested in developing cultivars that help the nursery industry,” Apps says.
Some of his other releases that are hardy in Zone 4 include “Happy Returns,” “Pardon Me,” “Big Time Happy” and “When My Sweetheart Returns.”
Apps is quick to recognize other breeders who are selecting daylilies for northern climates.
“Some of the best hardy Northern cultivars are produced by Roy Klehm in Barrington, Ill. His reds are somewhat self-cleaning and should be used more in landscapes,” he says.
A Brand is Born
Apps became interested in daylilies when he was state specialist in ornamental horticulture and landscape design at the University of Kentucky.
“I found the dry, red clay soils and hot summers of Lexington a tough spot to grow plants. The university had a bed of daylilies, which turned out to be one of the plants that could really take the heat. I bought my first named cultivars in 1969 and made some crosses and got hooked,” he says.
He started as an amateur breeder. A now-defunct South Carolina nursery was the first to introduce his cultivars. In 1990, Denny Blew of Centerton Nursery in Bridgeton, N.J., struck a deal with Apps to introduce his cultivars. Blew also asked Apps to help the nursery select superior cultivars (not just his own) for a branded line of daylilies.
“Together we developed the Trophytaker and Happy Ever Appster trademarked lines of daylilies,” he says. “In 1993 I sold my home in Chadds Ford, Pa., and went full-fledged into the nursery business and opened Woodside Nursery in southern New Jersey.”
Blew and Apps developed a set of criteria for selecting cultivars. The new daylilies must:
- Reflect the beauty and substance of modern daylilies;
- Prove hardy to at least Zone 5;
- Maintain an attractive appearance throughout the flowering season;
- Guarantee prolific flowering the first year of purchase;
- Flower at least double the length of time of an average daylily;
- Not be predisposed to pest problems; and
- Promise at least double the number of buds per scape than the average daylily available.
Make the Grade
The pair evaluated at least 6,000 plants to find the best selections for their brands.
“Out of all of those plants, we found about 20 that fit our criteria,” Blew says. “And that’s when we introduced the Trophytaker Daylily brand.”
Plants in the Happy Ever Appster all reflower multiple times.
“He may be the top breeder of hardy daylilies in the world,” Blew says of his friend and business partner.
In 2007, Apps sold his stock to Centerton Nursery and retired to his home town of Wild Rose, Wis.
“I’m still hybridizing reblooming daylilies on two village lots and I’m having fun,” he says.
The Future of Daylilies
Apps expects to see more containerized daylilies at garden centers “because Generation X and Y consumers are not likely to be able to handle bare-root plants.”
Daylilies in mixed containers will likely be a trend in the near future. ‘Happy Returns,’ ‘Rosy Returns’ and ‘Apricot Sparkles’ would work well in mixed containers, he says.
The market will continue to demand more disease-resistant varieties.
“Rust is a new disease that is a real problem in the southern Zones 7-10. In the future, fungicide application may be restricted. Plants from breeding programs may need to be screened by qualified plant pathologists following careful protocols to determine if a new cultivar is rust resistant,” he says.
Cultivars that flower a short three weeks will be replaced by plants that flower during a much longer period of time, he said. “The Northern areas – especially Zones 3-6 – will no longer accept Southern plants that are rapidly becoming tender annuals.”