By Emma Murphy, Master Gardener
Once upon a time there was a gardener who wanted something that grew quickly to screen a neighbour’s unsightly yard and house addition. She noticed that the ‘ditch lilies’ that surrounded her front yard tree (already there when she moved in) seemed to be pretty vigorous, so she planted a row of them between the yards, along with some small bridal wreath spirea (Spirae aprunifolia).
What she didn’t realize was that she had unleashed a horrible monster into her garden, one that quickly engulfed any other plants, sucked all the moisture out of the soil, and eventually killed most of those spirea.
Yes that gardener was me, many years ago, before I knew better and before I became a master gardener. So this year I knew I had to finally tackle the monster, remove all these plants, and reclaim this garden area. I knew how much work it would be (it took me three weekends this spring), but I got it done. Here’s my story…
Even though you see it growing in ditches around the province, Hemerocallis fulva (aka ditch lily, tawny daylily, orange daylily, tiger lily) is native to China, Japan and Korea and was introduced to North America in the early 19th century. They spread via seed and a network of tuberous roots, and can reproduce and proliferate from a small fragment left behind during removal. In 2020 the Ontario Invasive Plant Council added this plant to their invasives list, and their Grow Me Instead Guides offer some native alternatives to consider.
So this was my garden bed in May this year – just waiting to burst out and take over, again. Every single one of these plants had to be dug and lifted, making critically sure to get every last bulb. These photos show how many bulblets can be on just one stem – it was quite overwhelming to think of the job ahead.
All the plants that were dug out were put in black plastic garbage bags and left out in the hot sun beside our barn for a month. At last count I used 45 garbage bags, and they were a slog to carry as they were heavy!! Eventually they went to our rural dump, where the hot composting they do should ensure their demise.
Bit by bit, over three weekends, I got them all out. It was beneficial to have a dry spring, as it made digging them out a little easier. But still a workout!
Once everything was cleared out, I weeded the soil for anything else. All that remained were my tulips and a few hardy perennials that had been gasping for air for more than a decade.
With a fresh load of soil on top and a final check for bulblets done (and knowing that I would have missed a few), I put in some new plants, aiming for 50 percent native plants (those marked with a *). The area has both sun and shade spots so I needed to be careful with my choices.
For sun, Echinacea*, Gray-headed coneflower* (Ratibida pinnata), summer phlox (Phlox paniculata), American Witch Hazel* (Hamamelis virginiana), New England asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae), Sedums, Switch grass* (Panicum virgatum), Lesser catmint (Calamintha nepeta ssp. nepeta), Black-eyed Susans* (Rudbeckia hirta), lupins, Giant fleeceflower (Persicaria polymorpha), Cyclindrical Blazing Star* (Liatris cylindracea)[once I can convince the bunnies to stop eating it – see green covers], and Virginia Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum virginianum).
For part shade/shade, Mourning Widow Geranium (Geranium phaeum), Purple Flowering Raspberry* (Rubus odoratus), hostas, Sensitive Fern* (Onoclea sensibilis), Virginia Waterleaf* (Hydrophyllum virginianum), Columbine (Aquilegia), Starry False Solomon’s Seal* (Maianthemum stellatum), Buttonbush* (Cephalanthus occidentalis), Zig-zag goldenrod* (Solidago flexicaulis) and Berry Bladder fern* (Cystopteris bulbifera). Also the infamous Outhouse Plant (Rudbeckia laciniata ‘Hortensia’), to be replaced with something else next year. Any suggestions for fast growing native shrubs that can handle part share welcome!
The garden bed needs time to fill in, so we’ll see what it looks like next year. In August I went back into the bed and sure enough, there were new ditch lilies growing in a few places. Remember it only takes one bulblet for them to grow. But half an hour later they were all gone as well.
I suspect I will on alert for the odd ditch lily plant showing up for the next few years, but I’m really proud to have removed this nasty invasive plant from my garden and rejuvenated it with native plants. And my two lovely sugar maple trees are glad for some more breathing room.
NOTE: The orange, single flower Hemerocallis fulva is the only daylily currently listed as invasive. It is a diploid daylily. Most cultivated daylilies are triploid and do not spread invasively like the ditch lily.
7 thoughts on “Ditch Lilies – a Cautionary Tale”
Emma, I feel your daylily pain! I too allowed existing plants to grow and spread and in some cases even moved them around myself. I am also in to process of digging them out and finding it nearly impossible to kill them even with solarizing them in black plastic.
Yes, daylilies can be a problem like that. Watch out for your sensitive firms because for me in Kentucky they form a continuous mat that really is problematic and then they grow up in shade over other plants.
Yes, daylilies can be a problem like that. Watch out for your sensitive ferms because for me in Kentucky they form a continuous mat that really is problematic and then they grow up in shade over other plants.
I’m a Mississippi Master Gardener. I enjoyed your article. I sympathize because I’ve been fighting the very invade Chameleon plant. Sometimes the plants that look so pretty can be sooo deceiving.
You filled 45 plastic garbage bags with ditch lilies? They have done digs in dumps and found perfectly preserved cabbages from over 50 years ago. You should have at the very least used paper bags.
Hello Jewel, I am sorry if I was not clear. I used the bags to solarize the plants for two weeks and then to transport them to the dump. At the dump I opened and emptied every one of those bags (now filled with mostly dead plants) into my township’s green waste area, where the heat of their compost area will kill the plants fully.
Using paper bags would not have created the solarizing effect/heat needed to kill the plants prior to sending them to the dump.