We all learned in high school science class that “Nature abhors a vacuum.” If there’s an empty space something will always fill it; in fact there can be no such thing as a truly empty space. Gardeners are well aware of this, having observed firsthand that weeds in gardens and lawns do best when there’s no competition.
All of nature, all living things, are in relentless competition with each other for food, water and ideal growing conditions. Smart gardeners understand what the ideal conditions are for any plant in the landscape, and attempt to match the plant with conditions it prefers. Nature itself will correct any errors.
“Ditch lilies” are a terrific example. Right now it’s easy to see them along the roadside, cheerfully blooming bright orange. These are the native Hemerocallis, commonly called “tiger lilies” or “ditch lilies”. All Hemerocallis are referred to as daylilies because each individual flower only blooms for one day. Their show lasts for weeks because new buds are constantly forming and opening to replace the ones that are fading.
If you look closely at colonies of tiger lilies along the roadsides you’ll see that they naturally “colonize”, forming dense clumps that spread underground. If you’ve ever tried to separate and thin a colony of daylilies you can understand why very few other plants manage to survive among a colony of established daylilies. The fingerlike roots of daylilies, called rhizomes, are so densely intertwined that they choke out all but the most determined invaders, winning the battle for food, water and sunlight by overwhelming other vegetation.
Daylilies are very easy to cross-breed, creating an endless variety of colorful hybrids. While their bloom shape, color and size may vary widely, all daylilies share the dense root system and colonizing habit of the native ditch lilies. The way tiger lilies thrive in the moist, sunny conditions and rich soil in roadside ditches tells us what growing conditions all daylilies prefer.
What part of this lesson can we apply in our home landscapes? First, that daylilies in the right conditions will thrive and dominate with almost zero maintenance. If you take the trouble to till and enrich the soil, daylilies will rapidly establish themselves and squeeze out weeds and lawn grasses. When they’re not in bloom they have the lush look of ornamental grasses.
So, where would you use this plant to reduce your maintenance chores? How about starting under all the fences you have to Roundup or “weed-eat” every summer weekend? Nobody enjoys this drudgery, and it’s hard on your fence posts year after year. If just once you cleaned out and loosened the soil in a two-foot wide strip under your fences, planted some daylily divisions, and put down some mulch around them, you could kiss this onerous chore goodbye forever.
Tired of trimming around light poles, fire hydrants, guy wires and other obstructions around your yard? Make planting beds around them and start some daylily plants. The same trick works along walls on the sunny side of garages and sheds. You have to mulch them for a year or two and keep them free of weeds, and then they’ll take over and do the job for you. Easy and pretty. Problem solved!
Steve Boehme is a landscape designer/installer specializing in landscape “makeovers”. “Let’s Grow” is published weekly; column archives are online at www.goodseedfarm.com. For more information call GoodSeed Farm Landscapes at (937) 587-7021.