The late varieties of daffodils are blooming in my gardens now, along with some of the early and mid-season varieties. I love to pick a vase full and admire the amazing variety I’ve phased into my garden over the years.
Marianna Kittle of Bridgeport would like to do the same thing, but her daffodils are refusing to bloom. She writes in an e-mail: “I planted a whole bunch of jonquil bulbs under and around our huge Elm tree seven or eight years ago. They bloomed profusely several years in a row and have multiplied. Last year they did not bloom, and this year they did not bloom…There are plenty of leaves but no flowers. They are planted in good drainage and get plenty of sun.”
Why don’t these daffodils bloom? I asked Brent Heath of Brent And Becky’s Bulbs this question several years ago. I wanted to know if crowded, non-blooming, older bulbs should be dug up, divided and reset, to get them to bloom again. Brent said that was an awful lot of trouble, when judicious fertilizing can keep those bulbs blooming.
In their book, Daffodils for American Gardens, the Heaths write that each fall bulbs should be top dressed with a well-balanced bulb fertilizer like Holland Bulb Booster. This granular fertilizer scratched into the top layer of soil in bulb beds will gradually work its way down to the bulbs and be used as they’re putting out spring foliage and bloom.
How can you know where your bulbs are, if you don’t have them under an old elm tree like Marianna? The Heaths suggest using golf tees to ring the bulb area, or planting grape hyacinths as an edging around bulb plantings, since the hyacinth foliage will emerge in the fall and stay up through the winter.
If you’ve forgotten to fertilize in the fall, then in spring, between the time daffodil foliage emerges and bloom time, you can use a water soluble fertilizer. Once the bulbs start blooming, there’s no point in applying this.
Another reason bulbs don’t bloom is because they are not getting enough sunlight as their foliage matures or the foliage is being removed prematurely by the gardener. The Heaths write: “Many old gardening publications suggest that it is acceptable to braid the leaves or bend them over and secure them with a rubber band to tidy up the garden. These practices are detrimental to the daffodil’s growth and storage of sufficient starches for the next year’s bloom. The foliage needs sunlight and oxygen in order to photosynthesize properly. Bunching the foliage cuts off sunlight, suffocates the leaves and causes fungal problems.”
The Heaths suggest planting daffodils between perennials, so emerging perennial leaves can mask the yellowing daffodil foliage. Then, when the daffodil foliage “begins to turn yellow and fall over, it is losing its chlorophyll and will soon no longer serve the bulb. This is the time to cut the foliage. If the bulbs have been well watered and fertilized, we suggest that you wait at least eight to ten weeks after bloom before cutting the foliage.”
Most gardeners are ready to cut back the foliage a week or two after bloom is finished. If you want great bloom next year, resist the temptation! My large planting of daffodils used to have daylilies coming up in the field with them. The deer finished off the daylilies, so now the daffodils come up through lawn grass. It’s a very pretty spring look, but we have to wait a couple of months before this field can be mowed, to allow the daffodil foliage to ripen. Fortunately, it’s far from the house, so the field can be messy for a few months. Then we string trim down the very long grass/weed mix, and start mowing it.
Thinning to Promote Good Flowering
When your forsythia finishes blooming, it’s time to thin out the wild mass of stems, getting rid of the oldest, woodiest ones, so you can make room for new stems to emerge. Remove dead stems first. Then remove about one-third of the old stems, cutting them right down to the ground. This will give your forsythia an airy look and will allow sunlight to penetrate into the plant, increasing next year’s bud set and bloom.
If your forsythia is a tangled mess, you can renovate the planting by cutting the entire plant back to the ground. I’ve seen many people do this and the forsythia pops right back up and blooms the next year. It will take a few years to get back to full size. However, the new stems will be easier to maintain each spring.
Severely pruned plants benefit from fertilizing and regular watering during dry spells. Baby them along this year and you’ll be rewarded with ample new growth.