Gardening with Less Work Involved

mary_maxMarch 8, 2014

If you were going to scale back on the perennials and try to make less work would you keep the day lilies or get rid of them? Thanks

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Speaking as someone who is mobility-impaired & aging, I look about me and consider where I can economize on garden labor. Perennials that need pruning, deadheading, division, supplemental water, etc. are considered first. Daylilies wouldn't even make the cut since those growing in my beds the past 40+ years require no effort from me & return healthy and productive every year. I have over 30 named cultivars growing in various garden beds, half of which were planted by my brother close to 40 years ago.

I'd look first at things like peonies that bloom for such a short time & require staking or support, sedum that flops or perhaps some grasses that must be cut back every year.

    Bookmark   March 8, 2014 at 9:20PM
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Thanks Gardenweed for your response! I have gotten rid of most perennials for reason you spoke of but I do hesitate to get rid of Day lilies. And yes what is it with these grasses? They are so popular around here but all winter they look like straw and many are all toppled over with snow. The ones I had were absolutely horrid looking. Perhaps mine are not established enough to stand up on own but I am seriously considering tossing them out even though I love them during the summer months. Do others have this issue with the grasses also? If so I'd love to hear from you.

    Bookmark   March 8, 2014 at 9:35PM
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mary_max - I've limited myself to only a few ornamental grasses as they look so wonderful through the cold & snowy months here in northern CT. I have dwarf fountain grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides 'Hameln'), Calamagrostis/feather reed grass 'Karl Forster' + Carex/variegated Japanese sedge grass 'Ice Dance.' All have been impervious to heavy snow and require no more care than a simple haircut in Spring. They also do NOT grow to enormous proportions (i.e., height & width) as do some other ornamental grass cultivars.

I divided my dwarf fountain grass some years ago, gave the divisions to garden friends who provided the muscle for dividing it, then planted my own share of the divisions at either end of my granite garden bench for textural contrast.

Carex 'Ice Dance' retains its color through the winter. Calamagrostis/feather reed grass 'Karl Forster' retains its form and sways beautifully in breezes all through the year. Dwarf fountain grass 'Hameln' grows in a modest mound, grows not more than 28" tall & blends well with other full sun 2 ft. tall perennials. It does lose its color in winter but maintains its mounding, fountain shape plus the birds feed on the seeds its flowers produce.

I planted blue fescue in one or two beds but after 2 or 3 years wasn't impressed with its performance or appearance.

    Bookmark   March 8, 2014 at 11:41PM
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laceyvail(6A, WV)

Although I have several C. 'Karl Foester' I do not understand the folks who say they look great through the winter. The first heavy snow, mine collapse, and I usually cut them then. The grasses that look great for me through winter ice and snow are Ravenna grass and Miscanthus 'Morning Light'. In fact the latter has been flattened to the ground as many as three times and springs right back up again as soon as the snow melts.

    Bookmark   March 9, 2014 at 6:35AM
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garyfla_gw(10 Florida)

No help to you but had to comment lDaylilies for me
are by far the most work .lol mainly because of the long humid summers and my soil is sand with a bit of seashell .
If I work very hard i get a few flowers for a short time .
Most grasses for me are of two kinds those that struggle ,get overrun with weeds or those that try to eat the house. So itry to maintain a happy medium between tropicals and temperates and that means double the work. Another 20 years or so I'll get it figured out??
Good luck with your plan!! gary

    Bookmark   March 9, 2014 at 6:54AM
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I will be moving soon and have hundreds of daylilies. Unless they are dead-headed daily during blooming season, they look messy. I collected them for years and hybridized and wonder now why I did it. They are beautiful but only for a day.

I will take a couple that I hybridized myself and especially like and that is all.

    Bookmark   March 9, 2014 at 9:52AM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

you guys???? ... i suppose you clean your house also ... lol ..

i know we garden in different worlds.. me having 5 acres ...

listen to me.. daylily ... ignore it ... 365 days a year ... the following spring... when it dries out.. the canes snap off ..

otherwise.. they are a self mulching mound of leaves.. which never have to be removed.. regrowing in spring right thru the tan mound of old leaves... they never need dividing ... never need fert.. never need watering...

i just dont understand how you take a bulletproof workhorse.. and turn it in to a foo foo baby that needs all that followup care ...

its your mind set.. of a perfectly tended garden that needs changing... THAT IS WHAT NEEDS TO EVOLVE ...

heck.. you could dig up a daylily.. and leave it literally on the driveway.. and the thing wont die .. until hit with the snowblower... lol ...

so.. how do we change this mind set ... well.. DONT DO ANYTHING OUT THERE THIS YEAR ... besides a LITTLE water in heavy drought ..

the foo foo's will start to die off.. good riddance ...

some stuff will thrive.. with benign neglect ... those are the keepers ...

and whatever ends up just too ugly ... even daylily.. if you cant wrap your mind around keeping it ... if it gets too ugly ... THEN GET RID OF IT ...

crikey.. you house-cleaners ... you retentive types.. even want to make a long term project out of cutting back your garden.. all i ask is ... WHY??????

to repeat.. and yell .. lol... IF IT CANT SURVIVE.. ON BENIGN NEGLECT.. LET IT DIE .. AND BE DONE WITH IT ..

lets focus on mind set.. attitude.. rather than making it an overwhelming job to cut it all back ...

there.. i said it.. do with it.. as you will ...


ps: even i cant actually do nothing ... but ignoring 90% of it.. leaves me time to deal with the 10% that makes me actually pull out the tools ... and with such a small work load.. i enjoy this part.. if i actually ever do it.. lol ..

pps: get rid of anything that needs constant pruning.. like rose.. anything that needs constant spraying.. like rose ... anything that is so poorly sited.. jammed into too small a space and needs constant rejuvenation pruning... anything that requires deadheading because it reseeds too freely ... and forget about those 50 trays of annuals that need to be planted in spring..and pulled out in fall ... though one thing you cant ignore.. would be mulch ... after all we dont want to spend 20 hours a week weeding ....

ppps: this is one reason i moved into conifers... one year of transplant care... and you have a plant.. that will live for decades .. thats what i call LOW maintenance .... but its all about picking the right one for a space .... plus.. year around color ....

    Bookmark   March 9, 2014 at 10:35AM
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diggerdee zone 6 CT

Mary Max, funny you should ask this question now. There's another question here on the board about scaling back, and as this is something I am considering myself, my daylilies were one of the things I was wondering about when I read and posted to that thread (although I did not mention the daylilies there since I couldn't decide which way I came down on them). On one hand, so very reliable, so hardy, so easy. On the other hand, they can be messy looking and some of them need constant dividing. So what to do?

My thinking - and me being someone who can never make a clean, straight, hard decision, lol! - is to give away the more aggressive ones, including the plain old ditch lilies that I really do love, and keep some of the ones that are well-behaved. I can't imagine my garden without daylilies.

Like Ken, I can live with the dead blooms and the messy leaves if I have to; it's the digging and dividing I want to do away with.


This post was edited by diggerdee on Sun, Mar 9, 14 at 19:16

    Bookmark   March 9, 2014 at 10:54AM
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katob Z6ish, NE Pa

I love a patch of daylilies in full bloom, but don't have the mindset to ignore a patch of yellowed dying leaves and stems all summer. I can deal with something that politely dies back like a daffodil, but dragging it out all summer? There are so many other things to fill your garden with. Save your favorites and get rid of the rest. If you give them to friends, you can always get a division back just in case regret hits.... I bet it won't though.
There must be a few daylilies that look ok all summer and don't need frequent division, right? Stick with those ad move onto your next plant adventure!
ps. I love my Karl Foerster grass, even now at the end of winter. no fertilizer, little water, full sun. Must be the Spartan life that keeps it from flopping.

    Bookmark   March 9, 2014 at 11:24AM
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mad_gallica(zone 5 - eastern New York)

You have to dig and divide them? Interesting. I think I may have done that once or twice. Maybe. By far my biggest excursion into dividing daylilies was when somebody gave me a mixed clump of dwarf and standards species. I wanted the dwarf ones, so lined the clump out fan by fan so I could grow them out and see what was what.

This discussion does make me understand why people are always recommending shrubs for low maintenance, and I find the shrub borders to be the worst maintenance issues I have. The perennials pretty much take care of themselves. Weeding out the saplings under the shrubbery is a dirty, nasty job that has to be done.

    Bookmark   March 9, 2014 at 11:31AM
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For the most part I agree with nearly all of Ken's remarks as they closely mirror my own garden philosophy. Each person has his/her own individual perception of what their garden should look like as well as the purpose it should fulfill. I want my garden to have curb appeal but more, my goal is that it attract & sustain pollinators. At the same time, I need the garden to be low maintenance and, lastly, it should please my eyes. If another gardener has other goals, that gardener should pursue them whatever others' comments may suggest.

A garden isn't a rest stop on the Interstate that serves all who pass or stop--it's as personal as your identity.

Personally I don't object to the ratty remnants of faded daylily blooms or stems. What annoys or disturbs one gardener doesn't necessarily do so to others.

kato_b - my 'Karl Foerster' feather reed grass also remains upright all year, even when there's heavy snow cover. It's a stalwart & pleasing addition to my butterfly bed.

    Bookmark   March 9, 2014 at 7:36PM
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I consider daylilies very easy care. I have around 600 varieties.

I never understood the fascination with ornamental grasses either! They just look like weeds to me.

    Bookmark   March 9, 2014 at 8:52PM
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gyr_falcon(Sunset 23 USDA 9)

Not everyone has 5 acres of land like ken.There is a HUGE difference visually between having a unmaintained bed of daylilies 75' away, with several acres of other landscape plants to distract the eye and having that same bed of daylilies ten feet from your picture window with less than .15 acre of other landscape plants surrounding them.

I weighed getting rid of most of my daylilies, too. But I thought about it, and my solution this year is to move most of them out of the daylily bed and spread them out among my other garden plants. I will still get to enjoy the flowers and the plant in bloom will attract attention; but at the same time, when not in bloom, the ho-hum foliage blends in more. And, if the maintenance schedule is lax, the other plant species will distract from those spent flowers and brown leaves.

    Bookmark   March 10, 2014 at 3:04AM
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Re daylily comments (if not 'Gardening with Less Work Involved'):

I mix perennial garden in a relatively intense way.

I avoided daylilies for years but took to them about ten years ago after finally giving up on true lilies (lily beetles).

Personally I've found all of mine fit into the beds quite well and are certainly as hardy and no more work than most other non-seeding/non-running perennials. They bloom at a time when a lot of tall perennials are blooming.

Picture: August 5, 2013.
There's 'Smugglers Gold', 'Awesome Luck' and South Seas' in there.

    Bookmark   March 10, 2014 at 5:33PM
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SunnyBorders - that's a gorgeous garden bed in the photo above--thanks for sharing. Can you ID the elegant white Echinacea/coneflower on the left edge of the picture?

My daylilies are predominantly growing in mixed perennial beds similar to your own (I'll confess, however, none so stunning). Many of mine are named cultivars altho' regrettably those my brother planted so many years ago were never labeled or tagged. I specifically chose the named cultivars I planted more recently for their height & bloom time in an effort to ensure season-long color & interest.

Like you, I felt compelled to give up on true lilies a number of years ago due to red lily beetle & can only hope those nasty varmints don't learn to prefer any other of my perennials.

Gyr_Falcon - it's difficult for me to envision gardening on .15 acre. Where I live, zoning restrictions prohibit a property less than an acre in size. That's fine when you're in your prime... not so much when you age out.

    Bookmark   March 10, 2014 at 9:04PM
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gyr_falcon(Sunset 23 USDA 9)

An acre...That would be wonderful to landscape, gardenweed! Just for fun I checked Zillow for the nearby houses with that much land. 1.6 million and way up from there. Yeah, well, in that case I could probably afford to hire a gardener to maintain it in my old age. lol

    Bookmark   March 11, 2014 at 1:31AM
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Thanks GW.
I tend to think that, in our location, garden phlox can make any garden/gardener look good.

That white Echinacea must be the old 'White Swan'. So far, it's one of the few Echinacea cultivars which hasn't been affected by coneflower rosette mite.

Re the lily beetle: I also lost the toadlilies (which bloom at a very convenient time (fall)). I've never used frittilaria myself, so didn't have to abandon those as well.

As indicated, it's the Echinacea which are now on the firing line.

    Bookmark   March 11, 2014 at 2:10PM
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When I moved 2 years ago I tried to downsize my gardens...I potted up 200 perennials and that hardly made a dent...I had to choose what to take, so I chose lower maintenance plants, hostas, newer peonies with sturdy stems, only the special daylilies that I hybridized and named after my kids & grands, heuchera, primula, heather,baptisia,dwarf aruncus,ferns, arabis, aquilegia,campanula carpatica,echinacea, dwarf , siberian & japanese iris, only special phlox, new varieties that don't get mildew,tiarella and viola. I left behind anything that gets bugs, mildew, brown leaves ,needs staking ,spraying or trimming. I prepared the beds to last, lots of compost, then mulched around the plants with shredded bark. My only job is to cut down everything in the fall, nothing to do in the spring but enjoy.
Can't wait to get in the garden!

    Bookmark   March 13, 2014 at 4:32PM
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mjc_molie(z6 CT)

Heather, what a lovely yellow peony .... and its name? Yours certainly looks like a wonderful garden to walk through or to enjoy from that deck.

Like Sunnyborders, I also try to intertwine my daylilies with other perennials. That helps to hide the plants when they're on the way out. Yours are well tucked into the perennial border and add great color to the long garden.

One daylily that really took off for me was Malaysian Monarch. Three years ago I gave away many to a friend who filled the whole bed of his pickup truck with just 6 clumps. These had expanded to four or five foot wide planting and just overpowered the garden. I have divided some of my other daylilies, like Royal Eventide and Delia O'Bryan Brown, to spread out their colors ... not because they're annoying.

To me, daylilies are very easy case and very dependable. Like Ken, I wait until late fall when the stalks can be easily snapped off. Then my DH goes through the garden with an electric trimmer and cuts down stalks of most perennials. These are mulched. Of course, we have only 1/3 of an acre .... but we're also not getting any younger.

I think that when a garden becomes too much to care for, it needs to be changed. Or, as Gary indicated, if the plant you love just doesn't work in your zone, why fight it? If you end up disliking the plant, get rid of it!

One suggestion I have for anyone considering taking our your daylilies, or other perennials, is to contact the local branch of Habitat for Humanity. After the homes are built, a volunteer crew goes in and landscapes the front of the house to help the new homeowners. In our area, these plants are donated by crew members, local gardeners or by garden centers. I know that our branch of HfH is always looking for new sources of plants .... we're even willing to come to your place and dig them up!

    Bookmark   March 13, 2014 at 6:32PM
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If I had it to do over again, I'd plant fewer ornamental grasses.

I just finished cutting down and hauling off last year's stalks, as part of the second of two weekends of spring grass maintenance. Only one blister to show for it and no "paper cuts" from sharp edges, so the wounds are less than in past years. Still it's a chore I'd be happy to do without.*

*maybe a few small dynamite charges and I can blow up the unwanted clumps.

    Bookmark   March 15, 2014 at 4:11PM
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eric_oh - I just leave the debris when I cut back my ornamental grasses each spring. Generally the birds cart most of it off to use for nest building. Whatever they don't use just ends up being mulch or else the wind blows it away.

    Bookmark   March 15, 2014 at 7:15PM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

One of the reasons I have no large ornamental grasses in the garden here is because of the issue eric is talking about. I've watched neighbours deal with the big ones and wonder what they'd need to do to dig one out if they wanted to get rid of it - hire a backhoe? Dynamite? :-) I have one blue oatgrass and used to have a blue fescue - and that's the limit of my grass experimenting! The fescue always looked fairly ratty - there are a few stems that still linger there. The oatgrass is better-looking but does not make me inclined to add more grasses. If I had a rural, wide-open space, I could see using grasses to make an impressive prairie/savannah type planting if I had appropriate mowing equipment. But that's not my gardening situation here so I stick to more traditional, easier-managed perennials that go with shrubs and trees.

    Bookmark   March 16, 2014 at 10:15AM
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mad_gallica(zone 5 - eastern New York)

When I dig up big miscanthus, I do it in chunks. The first one can be pretty bad. The rest are not much different from something like Siberian iris, which I also dig up in chunks. Since one of the points of digging them up in the first place is to divide them, there isn't any reason not to divide them before digging.

    Bookmark   March 16, 2014 at 10:50AM
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This is a great topic for me. Last fall I finally admitted to myself that I need to downsize my gardens. I can't keep up with all of them any longer.

I have so enjoyed collecting all these plants over the years and it will be hard to part with many of them.There are so many memories attached.

Removing the ones that require the most care or do not do well makes the most sense so that is what I plan to do.

My church has a fair in June with a plant sale and I'll be donating quite a few. I'll also give some away.

I know it's necessary but it will be tough.

    Bookmark   March 16, 2014 at 5:13PM
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SunnyBorders - FYI, the red lily beetles have never (so far at least) bothered my toad lilies which I have growing in two of my garden beds, one full-shade, the other part sun. Since they bloom so late in the season (October where I am), the bees are all over them. Perhaps they discourage the RLBs in my garden.

    Bookmark   March 16, 2014 at 7:19PM
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Thyme2dig NH Zone 5

I really enjoy daylilies in the garden both interspersed in beds and I also created a daylily border with a smattering of a few other plants. Maybe because of my zone I don't find that they die back and get ratty until much later in the season. Many bloom well into August. It is a bit of a job to clean them all up if one wants to keep a tidy garden. Depends on my mood whether I cut them back or just leave them to rake up the following spring when everything's completely died back. I'm more of a type-b so I don't mind a little mess in the garden if the bang during the season is there from the plant.

I just dug out almost all my grasses this past year. Or really, DH did the dirty work. They were a lot of work because I think my soil was too rich so they flopped. It's not fun throughout the season trying to stake a giant Chinese grass that is twice or more tall as I am. It was a beauty during fall, but became too much of a hassle.

Lord help me if red lily beetles hit my toad lilies. I dug up all asiatic and oriental lilies years ago once I was plagued with those little nasties.

    Bookmark   March 16, 2014 at 8:14PM
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katob Z6ish, NE Pa

Those are some nice phlox SunnyB, and hmacflower, that yellow peony is great, is it Bartzella? I love peonies, but just don' have enough room to give to them for the other 50 weeks of the year, so I try to hold back.
Unless you garden with small kids, most people dig with dull shovels. I put a nice sharp edge on mine and wow, what a difference. Makes digging up grass and digging in general half the work. Also I like to use a reciprocating saw with a long blade on it to divide the woody part of grasses. Saws through fairly easily, and saves my back.

    Bookmark   March 16, 2014 at 8:59PM
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In defense of grasses, there are many superb ornamental grasses that are a piece of cake to trim in late winter. Steer clear of the Euro and Asian imports that will inevitably die out in the centers and need regular dividing like Miscanthus and Pampas. Opt for the Panicums anywhere in the US or the Sacaton's and Muhly's in the mid to southwest if you need a big grass, the leaves are not sharp edged. Muhly's often stay almost evergreen here.

There are many lovely medium and small ornamental varieties that make for low maintenance choices, far more attractive for a grass effect in my opinion than the lanky, weedy, grass-like foliage which is "not worth the brief period of flowers" of daylilies that tend to look like that patch of messy Johnson Grass up the road in a garden. Since they will grow in poor conditions with no care, people do plant them but there are so many better alternatives. On the other hand, appropriate tussock type grasses look good during all seasons, block weed growth, add great texture, wonderful seed heads and require almost no maintenance.

I imagine the area one lives in determines if a plant looks suitable or not and tastes probably differ in various parts of the country.

One problem with a garden full of plants like garden phlox, rudbeckia, day lilies etc and many other "die to the ground" perennials filling a bed is that there is no interest in winter or early spring. Many have a tendency to flop, therefore requiring staking and future dividing along with the job of deadheading and require too much irrigations. Maybe this is just a factor in more southern parts of the country where we tend to be in the garden for most of the year and lack snow on the ground. There are many varieties of plants to choose from that fit the bill around here for these issues.

Less work would result with well spaced drought hardy shrublike perennials and subshrubs that get woody and have a presence with maturity. I find they are better choices for year round interest & low maintenance, which usually means maintaining overall neatness. These types are attractive both in or out of bloom. It prevents that often overwhelming & overgrown chaotic appearance that often occurs in mid to late summer when choosing various plants based strictly on "showy flowers" especially when the plants are out of their early peak blooming period after which they tend to shut down & burn up in summer and need too much irrigation just to stay alive.

A garden full of blackened to the ground foliage & stems and a boring blank slate in winter is something I find downright depressing. Again this is probably a regional thing. The grasses are quite pretty in winter here.

    Bookmark   March 17, 2014 at 7:13PM
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