Ask the Gardener

Ask the Gardener: About 'Ditch Lilies' and spuds in straw

CorrespondentJuly 12, 2013 

The daylily has many common names, including orange daylily, tawny daylily and the unflattering “ditch lily.”

COURTESY OF L.A. JACKSON

I moved here from Tennessee last winter, and, a few weeks ago, I was surprised to see what I think is a lily in a roadside gully near my home that looks like one I used to see close to my Knoxville home. It has long, skinny stalks with tubular flowers that are orange in color with some yellow in the middle. Are they native? Or, since I keep seeing them along roads, are they being put there by the Department of Transportation?

Stacy Davidson

Durham

The “lily” you have been seeing is probably a species of daylily called Hemerocallis fulva, which has many common names, including orange daylily, tawny daylily and the unflattering “ditch lily.” Although not native, it sure acts like it. The orange daylily originates from Asia and has been used in landscapes here since the Colonial days, not only as an ornamental but also for erosion control – that’s part of the reason you see so many of them in ditches. This tough daylily spreads by rhizomes and easily naturalizes, but in some areas, to the point of being invasive.

In spite of its nature to spread, the orange daylily can be made to play nicely with other plants by being divided frequently.

And for the record, the N.C. Department of Transportation does plant daylilies along roadsides – not Hemerocallis fulva, but newer cultivars, and currently, they love to use the tall, reblooming, yellow-flower cultivar known as “Buttered Popcorn.”

Potatoes thrive in straw

Because of your article in the spring of 2012 on growing potatoes in wheat straw, I am now eating potatoes from my garden. And I’m finding some gems when I carefully pull the straw away. Some are bigger than a baseball. The tops of the plants are yellow and have started to die. When should I dig the rest of them? Does the potato plant have to be completely dead? I will definitely grow potatoes with the straw method next year. Thanks again!

Doris Wilkinson

Raleigh

You can dig and eat those spuds just about any time between the flowers fading away and the foliage dying down. The earlier you harvest them, the smaller they are – called “new” or “spring” potatoes – but they still taste great. Glad the straw method worked for you. It’s so easy, even a modern caveman like myself can do it.

Readers who would like to know more about spuds in straw can find the original story, “How to grow Irish potatoes in red clay,” at http://tinyurl.com/kbmf9hz.

Prune Knock Outs in winter

I have had eight ‘Knock Out’ roses for four years now, and I have thoroughly enjoyed them. However, now they are getting big, and I would like to prune them, but since they are in almost constant bloom, when do I prune?

Gerry Porter

Raleigh

I know what you mean about ‘Knock Out’ roses in constant bloom – I even spotted a few flowers of this rose in full flaunt early this January. The best time in this area to prune this shrub rose is deep into winter. I would shoot for late February. And you can really whack away at a ‘Knock Out.’ Take one-third to half of the bush away, if you want, and it will come roaring back (in a beautiful way, of course) come spring.

L.A. Jackson is the former editor of Carolina Gardener Magazine. Send your garden questions, including the city where you garden, to askthegardener@newsobserver.com.

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