In mid-summer, daffodils are rarely top-of-mind. But this is exactly the time when you need to be ordering them. And this is especially true for the more sought-after, unusual varieties. Why stick with yellow trumpets when daffodils come in so many other colors, shapes and sizes? See below if one or more of these different types of daffodils wouldn’t be the perfect fit for your spring garden. Continue reading →
Once daffodils quit blooming, things can get ugly. Even so, it’s vital to the health of the plant to let the leaves yellow. Removing foliage prematurely may neaten things up, but come spring you’ll have far fewer flowers. And everyone knows that daffodils look best in large numbers. Continue reading →
Recently my inbox has been overflowing with questions from readers worried about the abnormally warm winter we’ve been experiencing. Many of the questions center on daffodils; in particular, what to do about unruly bulbs. Before replying, I first spoke with a few local nursery experts to gain their advice. Here are five of my readers’ top concerns about daffodil bulbs and what to do about them. Continue reading →
Yesterday I supervised the planting of 5,000 spring-flowering bulbs. We laid them out in patterns and dug them one-by-one into the earth. When we were finished, we dressed the bulbs with mulch and all stepped back to admire our handiwork. You could almost sense the pulse of spring making its way up from underground. Continue reading →
Let’s face it. It’s hard not to stress when your daffodils start popping up mid-winter. As weather becomes more unpredictable, early growth is becoming more and more common. Not to worry, though. Your spring bulbs have seen it all before. Moreover, they’re built to handle a few temperature swings.
THE UNDERGROUND WORLD OF BULBS
To understand why spring bulbs can weather a little premature growth, it helps to take a peek underground.
Botanically speaking, a bulb is a short stem surrounded by leaves that store food during dormancy. As soon as you plant it in the fall, a spring bulb starts growing.
A bulb has five major parts: a basal plate, scale leaves, protective tunic, a flowering shoot and lateral buds. Growth begins in the basal plate. During the winter months, roots emerge from this modified stem to penetrate the soil.
As they develop, the roots absorb water and other nutrients that they store in the scale leaves.
In some flower species like alliums, a thin papery covering called the tunic keeps the scales from damage or drying out.
Papery thin tunic keeps bulbs from drying out
In addition to providing food storage, the scale leaves also protect the flowering shoot. This vital part of the bulb contains all of the future leaves and flowers. During the winter months, the flowering shoot grows slowly upwards within the bulb. Eventually, it develops into a stem.
Sometime in winter, the leaves break through the soil. Then, approximately one month later, the flowering shoots begin to appear.
At this stage in the process, the key thing to remember is: the flowers develop independently of the leaves.
This means that even if your bulbs (specifically, leaves) come up early, the flowering shoots still need time (between 5 and 7 weeks) to develop. And before that happens, your bulbs have most likely weathered the warm spell and resumed dormancy.
So if you see leaves poking up out of the ground too early, don’t worry. A cold snap may cause them to yellow and die back, but the bulb will wait things out and send up new growth once things warm back up again.
WAYS TO SLOW BULBS FROM COMING UP TOO EARLY
There are a few strategies, however, that you can implement now to slow things down while providing an extra layer of protection to the flowering shoot.
1. COVER YOUR PLANT
Covering the soil around your spring bulbs will help insulate them against frigid temperatures and drying winds. Try mulch, straw, bark chips, leaves or pine needles.
Or, if the plant is budding too early, try draping a cloth over it (securing it above the plant with stakes.) Remove the drape during the day so the foliage can absorb sunlight to warm back up.
2. WATER DURING DRY SPELLS
If there’s been a dry spell for an extended period of time, a little extra water during the day helps bulbs grow. However, make sure your soil has good drainage. Bulbs can rot if they receive too much water.
3. IF FLOWERS START TO APPEAR
If the weather continues to stay unseasonably warm, your spring bulbs may start to produce flowers. Don’t worry. Even if frost kills off some of the initial buds, it usually won’t affect flowering in the coming months. And it won’t destroy your bulbs. They’ll still flower next year.
4. PLANT BULBS LATE IN THE FALL
The later in the fall you plant, the longer the bulb will take to sprout come spring. Wait until the temperature is cold enough (40°F or below at night) to plant your spring bulbs to ensure they’re fully dormant. Here in Maryland, I plant my daffodils in late November.
Finally, make sure to plant your bulbs at three times their height in depth with the base down and the bud up. Planting bulbs too shallow makes them vulnerable to frost heaves and can lead to premature growth. And planting them upside down can stunt their growth.
For a list of ten popular spring bulbs and when and how to plant them, click here.
Author’s note January 2020:According to Science News, there is growing evidence that, in general, warmer springs are bringing earlier spring flowers. This in turn will result in longer growing seasons and drier summers. (This does not, however, mean daffodils in January.)
Here in Maryland we are having an unseasonably warm winter. In fact, it’s 65 here today on February 3. Below is a photo illustrating the state of my daffodils. (The leaves are about 3″ tall.) I’ll keep you posted as to their development.
My own daffodils on February 3
Same daffodils on February 24 – all foliage, luckily no blooms!
Looking for more? Check out my instagram at carole.herebydesign to see photos of my designs and tips on what to plant where.