(Updated for spring 2020)THE TIMELY TOPIC OF DAFFODILS CAME UP THIS WEEK, when a reader asked “Why don’t my daffodils have flowers?” Actually, these Narcissi have a number of requirements. If their needs are not met, the bulbs will deny us their bright bouquets. And here is my list of causes and cures for poor- or non-flowering daffodils:
Too much nitrogen. If your soil is naturally nitrogen-rich, or if you sprinkle a high-nitrogen fertilizer around bulbs, you can bet the spring picture will be all leaves, no flowers. Cure. Feed your bulbs with a high-phosphorous formula. I feed mine with a granular, 5-10-10 mix. This I apply three times each year: first in early autumn; then in spring when leaves emerge; then immediately after flowers fade.
Too much shade. If, in spring, deciduous trees leaf out and shade your daffodil’s ripening foliage, the bulbs will not produce the embryo flowers needed for next year’s show. Cure: Prune lower branches from trees to admit more sun.
Lack of moisture. Keep in mind that daffodils require abundant moisture (though not soggy soil) when they are actively growing. Cure: Give them supplemental water in times of spring drought, or if the bulbs are growing in the vicinity of trees. Tree roots will steal available moisture and food for themselves.
Leaves removed before ripening. After flowering, bulbs rely on their foliage for photosynthesis. Consequently, if leaves are removed before they have ripened, there will be no flowers the following year. Cure: Remove faded flowers, if you wish, but do not remove foliage until it withers and becomes loose .
High Heat. Daffodils love cool weather, and will not tolerate a heat wave. I well recall April 2008, when temperatures here soared into the 90s for several days. The following year my daffodils made a very poor showing. Cure: I’ll admit I do not have one.
Crowding. Bulbs usually divide themselves every year or two, eventually forming a large clump. Such crowding puts the bulbs in competition for food and moisture, which in turn mitigates bloom. Cure: Dig clumps after foliage has withered, and replant the individual bulbs 6 inches apart and 6 inches deep. Do not provide supplemental water until autumn.
Are your daffodils a delight — or a disappointment — this spring?
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