Home Grounds Blog

Question:  I have a delightful neighbor who has lived in this area all her life; she regales me with stories about old landscapes, old homes, and old plants.  One plant in particular she describes with affection and passion is called a “ditch lily”. I’ve done a little reading regarding this lily since my plan was to find and install them in my yard.  Is this a good idea?  Am I asking for trouble by introducing this plant?  Is it considered a delight or a demon?

daylilly - sallie.jpg
Answer:  Whether your “delightful” neighbor explained or not, the “ditch lily”, also called day lily, tiger liiy, roadside lily, and a few other names, is one of a group that fell out of favor with more “discerning” gardeners some years back.  Because of their low maintenance, friendly nature, and ability to spread from one spot to another sans human intervention, some circles have bestowed on them “invasive species” status.

But before you abandon the idea of adding them to your yard, let’s take a closer look at Hemerocallis, the lily’s “proper” or botanical name.

Sometimes considered “passalong” or “friendship plants’, these colorful harbingers of summer originally hailed from Asia, where they were a staple of Chinese diets for many years.  Arriving in the New World with our first colonists, daylilies quickly spread across North America, as determined as our ancestors to stake a claim and establish new territory.

Even then we knew this was not a true lily; true lilies grow from bulbs, the daylily from tuberous roots. But, from its early days, daylilies were known for those characteristics that made it popular in its native environment.

To “tough as nails”, add tenacious.  Daylilies in landscapes offer a range of colors, sizes, and periods of bloom.  As example, some designers use daylilies to fill gaps in the landscape, border a sidewalk, or to hide unattractive items such as air conditioning units.  Requiring minimal maintenance once established, they tolerate a range of soil and temperature conditions although they look their best in full to filtered sun and with their “feet” in soil that drains well.

Massed on banks and areas too steep or hard to mow, daylilies also add ‘bling’ to foundation plantings; some color combinations can be down-right  eye-popping!
In addition to Hemerocallis fulva, the “common” ditch lily, there is a bewildering list of lily possibilities, including night-blooming and a lemon-scented species. Colors, as mentioned previously, come in shades of white, yellow, pink, purple, and striking combinations of any and all. Cultivars also include a range of bloom times, so though “day” lily indicates just that – a flower that blooms for a day – by combining early, mid, and late blooming types, daylilies can be enjoyed the entire summer.

Mix color options, bloom time, height variations, and flower shapes to understand how there are thousands of named cultivars around today. Choose from one or more categories to delve even deeper into the daylily of ditches and devotees, since a few cultivars have price tags equal to the down payment on a new car!

Is this plant a delight or a demon? Depends on who you ask, but as suggested by one expert, ‘if you have a patch of bad yard that won’t grow anything, try daylilies.  Chances are they will do the job and look good in the process’.  

written by Sallie Lee of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System (ACES). She is housed at the C. Beaty Hanna Horticultural and Environmental Center, which is based at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens.


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