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Toad lily is a nice, small perennial for shade

By Nancy Brachey
Nancy Brachey
Nancy Brachey writes about gardening for The Charlotte Observer's weekly Home & Garden section.

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  • Ask Nancy

    Q. I discovered that poison ivy and grass have invaded my candytuft bed. Since I can't conceivably pull both up by hand, can I spray poison ivy killer in that area without destroying my candytuft bed?

    A. A poison ivy killer will also likely kill the candytuft. Here is a suggestion. Wearing disposable rubber gloves and long sleeves, cut back the poison ivy plants, then use a paint brush to apply the weed killer to the cut ends of the stems.

Of all the oddly matched names in the plant world, toad lily gets the prize. A toad is ugly and a lily is lovely, right? So how did they get together as the common name for a nice small perennial for shade?

The name toad apparently stems from the speckled markings on the flowers of most species of the toad lilies, which may be brownish purple, bluish purple or maroon. The little flowers open upright with six petals forming an open, bell shape that reminds you of a lily, only smaller.

The reason I bring up this little perennial now is that it is a very good flower for fall. The blooms begin to open in late summer and usually hold on until about mid-autumn. Now, it does not have the va-va-voom of big chrysanthemums that tend to stop traffic. The toad lily is more subtle, at home in shaded beds with hostas and ferns. The nice thing is while these other plants are starting to look weary, the toad lily sends up its blooms, looking fresh as a daisy. They grow 1 to 3 feet tall, but usually on the shorter side.

While at home with native wildflowers and other shade-loving perennials, the toad lily comes from far away. Most species of the genus tricyrtis arose in woodlands and mountains of the Eastern Himalayas and the Philippines. Nevertheless, they grow nicely in the Piedmont, provided you give them a home of rich, moist soil and shade all day. The soil, as for most of toad lily’s companions, must be well-drained. This is not a difficult position. Avoid planting them in the dry shade under tree canopies. Thinking that might be a good spot for them, I lost a few and concluded the soil stayed too dry through the summer.

These plants are hardy, but they benefit from a loose, light mulch put on once cold weather arrives and removed in early spring. That is when the plants can be dug, divided and replanted immediately.

Garden centers often show toad lilies with their fall perennials, and they can be planted and enjoyed immediately. Perhaps it will stir a debate on whether it is more toad or more lily.

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