AMES, Iowa— Home gardeners welcome daffodils as a sign of spring. However, they often have questions about when to plant and how to manage foliage after spring blooming. Iowa State University Extension and Outreach horticulture specialists share information about daffodil care. To have additional questions answered, contact the Hortline at 515-294-3108 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
After flowering, daffodil foliage typically persists for four to six weeks. 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. 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.
Deadheading is the removal of spent flowers. While tulips should be deadheaded immediately after flowering, it is not necessary to deadhead daffodils. The vigor of tulip bulbs quickly declines if tulips are not promptly deadheaded and seed pods are allowed to develop. However, seed pod formation on daffodils has little impact on plant vigor. Some gardeners do deadhead daffodils for aesthetic reasons as the spent flowers/seed pods are not attractive.
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 dies back four to six weeks after flowering. The foliage of daffodils and other spring-flowering bulbs is performing a vital function, 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.
Daffodil bulbs 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 well-drained soils in full sun. The planting site should receive at least six hours of direct sun per day.