AMES, Iowa – The emergence of daffodils is one of the first signs of spring – along with crocuses, tulips and other spring-flowering bulbs. Horticulturists with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach explain the plant care needed to encourage blooms. To have additional questions answered, contact the Iowa State Hortline at firstname.lastname@example.org or 515-294-3108.
If the daffodils aren’t blooming, the plants weren’t able to store enough food in their bulbs in the previous year. Daffodil foliage typically persists for four to six weeks after blooming. During this period, the daffodil foliage is manufacturing food. Much of the food is transported down to the bulbs. In order to bloom, daffodils must store adequate levels of food in their bulbs. Cutting off the foliage before it has died back naturally may prevent the plants from storing adequate food in the bulbs. Allow the daffodil foliage to die completely before removing it. Plants in partial shade in May and June may not be able to store enough food in their bulbs because of insufficient sunlight. Dig up daffodils growing in partial shade when the foliage has died back and plant the bulbs in a location that receives at least six hours of direct sun per day. If given good care and favorable growing conditions, weak (non-blooming) daffodils can be encouraged to flower again.
Daffodil foliage tends to get floppy and look a little unruly. However, it’s best to leave the foliage alone and not tie or braid the leaves. The daffodil foliage manufactures food for the plant. Adequate amounts of food must be stored in the bulbs in order for the daffodils to bloom the following spring. Tying the leaves together with rubber bands or braiding the foliage reduces the leaf area exposed to sunlight. As a result, the leaves manufacture smaller amounts of food. Plus, tying or braiding the foliage is a time-consuming chore.
Daffodil foliage should not be removed until it has turned brown and died. The length of time it takes the foliage to die back depends on bulb type, weather and other factors. The foliage of daffodils usually doesn’t die back until late June or early July. The foliage of daffodils and other spring-flowering bulbs is performing a vital function. It is manufacturing food for the underground bulbs. Premature removal of the plant foliage reduces plant vigor and bulb size, resulting in fewer flowers next spring. After the foliage has turned brown, it can be safely cut off at ground level and discarded.
Daffodils can be dug up and replanted as soon as the foliage dies back (turns brown) in early summer. Daffodils can also be dug up and replanted in fall (October). If you would like to move daffodil bulbs in fall, mark the site when the foliage is present so the bulbs can be located in October. Daffodils perform best when planted in a well-drained soil in full sun.