Thursday, October 31, 2013

my great grandmother's day lilies

I feel like my Chattanooga readers might be getting sick of my garden posts, but gardening in Chattanooga is part of living in Chattanooga, and I hope you can learn a little bit from me about what works (and what doesn't work) this area.

The plants that have done the best in my yard are by far the day lilies.  These aren't special hybridized day lilies, they are what I would call native ditch lilies.  These are the orange day lilies that you see along the roadside in the summer.  They can survive our hot summers, our sometimes cold winters, our wet years, and our droughts.  They prefer sun, but tolerate my shady front yard.  They even multiply on their own, and fill in so you don't have to weed.  All without any extra attention from us.

 Summer 2012

No one can remember when this day lily bed was planted, but it goes back as far as my uncle can remember, so easily somewhere in the 30 to 50 year range.  If my great grandmother was anything like my grandmother, these day lilies were actually collected from the ditches near her house over time. (My grandmother did the same thing with rocks.)  After my great-grandmother died, no one touched the day lilies.  Trees grew up around them, and they just kept growing and multiplying.  They bloomed when the house was vacant, and when the first tenants began renting the house.

Summer 2012

When I moved in, two years ago, they were the plants I counted on my first summer. This year they bloomed, but didn't bloom well.  The reason was this: they were beyond over crowded.

Summer 2013

So after who knows how many years of growing on their own, I decided this fall was time to divide the day lilies.  I was nervous before we started, because about 3 weeks earlier, the day lily bed was mowed over by a rogue landscaping crew.  At first I was upset (they mowed down my wildflowers right before they bloomed), but with the day lilies, I think it worked to my advantage.  When they were transplanted, the leaves were shorter, therefor less energy is required to keep the plants alive.

Here is process for transplanting day lilies:
  1. Dig out a clump with a shovel, and shake out the dirt.  The roots are fairly shallow, so you don't have to go down too far, but a shovel works better than  trowel.
  2. With the dirt out of the way, the bulbs can be pulled apart by hand.  If that is too much trouble, you can take a sharp knife, and cut the clump into smaller sections.  You're not going to kill them.  Promise.
  3. (optional)  Amend the soil.  My soil was pretty spent, so I added mushroom compost and soil conditioner to the bed so that the mixture was 1/3 by volume soil, mushroom compost, and soil conditioner.
  4. Replant, leaving 10-12 inches between the plants or small clusters of plants.  The leaves grow up, and then mound down, so you won't see the space in between.  
  5. Water.  Give everything a good soak so that the roots can establish themselves.  Continue to water carefully until estabolished.
  6. (optional) Mulch. They will survive without it, but whether its traditional mulch, leaves, or grass clippings, mulch helps retain moisture, and keeps out the weeds.
Spacing small clumps of day lilies about a full hand's width apart, I ended up putting less than a quarter of the day lilies back into the day lily bed.  All of the plants were immediately happier than they had been before.  They perked right up, and since it is fall, I only worried about keeping them watered for about 2 weeks.  This past weekend I mulched the bed, and we are now good to go.  

Fall 2013

You may be asking what I did with the rest of the day lilies?? I created another bed at the edge of the woods, put some near my roses, and gave about 50 plants to a co-worker.  This weekend we are celebrating my grandmother's 90th birthday, and I am giving some away as favors.  I have about 250 plants left, and they will be potted up or kept in plastic bags while they are dormant this winter.  Hopefully I can find happy homes for them next spring.  If you're interested, let me know!

Fall 2013


  1. I am facing the same thing - Day Lilies multiplied like crazy over a long period of time. Way too crowded.
    I thought of asking Habitat for Humanity if they wanted some for the new houses they are building, but I haven't actually contacted them yet.
    Have a wonderful week-end!

    1. Lea, you just gave me a great idea! A friend of mine is working on a neighborhood revitalization project, and I should see if he wants any. :)
      Happy Gardening!


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