Recently my email box has been overflowing with questions from readers worried about the unusually warm winter we’ve been experiencing. Many of the questions center on daffodils, in particular, what to do with unruly bulbs. In replying, I first spoke with a few of my local nursery experts to gain their opinion. Following are five of my readers’ top concerns about daffodil bulbs and what to do about them.
MY DAFFODIL BULBS ARE COMING UP TOO EARLY
This is a tricky one. Bulbs are built to weather a winter warm spell – they may sprout foliage a little early, but as long as there aren’t flowers, the leaves will die back with the return of cold weather. The important thing to remember is that even if you see foliage, flowers take another 5 weeks to appear. By then, the bulbs have most likely resumed their dormancy.
This year, however, many areas of the country are experiencing an unusually warm winter. Here in Maryland, the soil never froze. As a result, daffodils and other bulbs are coming up early. It may be unsettling to see such early flowers, but the bulbs will survive (assuming you leave them undisturbed.) Let’s all hope for better luck next year.
DO MY DAFFODIL BULBS NEED FEEDING?
Yes. Because the bulbs have used up the bulk of fall’s fertilizer to put on roots over the winter. Feed your daffodil bulbs in early spring with a liquid fish emulsion fertilizer when foliage starts to appear. You can also scratch a small amount of granular food into the soil, but make sure to water it in well to avoid burning the bulbs.
CAN I DIG THEM UP?
This depends. In late winter, it’s safe to dig them up and pot them when foliage has just broken through the soil. But if you dig them up any later, you risk causing severe damage to the bulb’s roots. Best to wait until after they flower and the leaves have turned yellow and decomposed. Then move them, or better still, wait to dig them up in the fall.
CAN I TRIM OFF THE LEAVES AFTER FLOWERING?
NO. The leaves are now manufacturing food for next year’s bulb through photosynthesis. This usually takes about 5 to 6 weeks. Leave the foliage on the plant until it yellows, then trim it to the ground. You can disguise ugly leaves by planting similar-leaved plants around your bulbs like daylilies.
One way to neaten things up while you wait is to tie down the foliage. Catherine Moravec demonstrates how to do so in this helpful youtube video. Since I’m a designer, this is my preferred way to spruce things up.
However, not everyone’s a fan. Some say it can hinder the leaves’ ability to manufacture food for next year’s flowers by reducing the leaf area exposed to sunlight.
WHY AREN’T MY DAFFODIL BULBS BLOOMING?
According to the American Daffodil Society, there are a number of reasons why daffodils don’t bloom. Prime among them is cutting down the foliage too early. (I’ll note that they also recommend not tying down the foliage.)
Other factors may include lack of feeding, being planted in too much shade, or poor drainage (which often ends up rotting the bulbs.) Planting daffodil bulbs under heavy-feeding trees like evergreens or other fast-growing plants can also put them in competition for nutrients as well as reduce their flowering.
Lastly, transplanting can put stress on bulbs. If you moved yours recently, it make take them a year to adjust to their new environment.
Got any other questions or concerns? Comment below and we’ll keep expanding on the discussion.