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Keep the green foliage of daffodils in the garden

Nancy Brachey
Nancy Brachey writes about gardening for The Charlotte Observer's weekly Home & Garden section.
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DANA ROMANOFF - OBSERVER FILE PHOTO
After your daffodils and other spring bulbs finish blooming, don’t touch the foliage until it has turned yellow or brown.

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  • Ask Nancy

    Q. After the unusually cold, wet winter, our well-established gardenia, over 10 years old, is now 90 percent brown, dry leaves. But the branches are flexible. Have we lost this beautiful shrub or is there hope it will revive as the weather warms?

    A. Give that gardenia time to wake up and see how the new growth presents itself and looks. The brown leaves are very likely to fall off, but if the stems are alive, they should put out new foliage. Whether the flower buds were so damaged that they will not open in June remains to be seen. The plant shows signs of being alive, and that is the most important thing. Just have patience.


With the end of their blooming season near, daffodils present a scene that is very bothersome to some gardeners. This is the tall green foliage left behind after the pretty yellow or white flowers fade away.

Even with the flowers gone, the foliage must stay. It is the living link between now and next year, when the bulb should send up a new bud to open into a delightful bloom.

Fortunately, most gardeners understand that this foliage must not be cut away now. It must stay put to allow the leaves to mature slowly and turn from green to yellow, then brown.

This happens because, with the leaves alive, active and green, the biological activity of the plant keeps going. That works to build a new bud inside the bulb down in the ground and encourage growth of the bigger bulbs that will produce more flowers.

Once the foliage matures at its normal pace, the bulb goes dormant, but next year’s bloom is promised.

So treat these leaves well to keep them going through spring. Cut off all spent flowers you see, but leave as much of the green stem as possible.

Even those who know not to cut off the leaves may damage them in other ways. One major way is grabbing a clump of foliage, then folding it over once or twice and using a rubber band or string to keep it folded. This is not the thing to do, because you risk breaking the tissue inside the stems and inhibiting the natural process of photosynthesis, which is what we want to happen through the rest of spring. Every leaf should get the maximum amount of sunlight possible, even as they slowly droop and then sprawl on the ground. It is the price for having nice daffodils. It generally takes six to eight weeks after bloom for the foliage to mature. Once it turns yellow-green, you can remove it. That may take some cutting. Once the leaves turn beige to brown, they are quite easy to rake up. This is also when you can dig and divide any clumps that didn’t bloom well because they have grown and become crowded.

Basically the same rules apply to all spring-flowering bulbs: Let the leaves mature naturally.

It is best to fertilize daffodils and other bulbs in mid-winter, about the time you see the first green tips of leaves emerging from the ground.

It doesn’t take much – just 3 pounds of 8-8-8 or 10-10-10 garden fertilizer on 100 square feet of bed. Or use a specially formulated bulb fertilizer at the rate directed on the package.

When the green tips of tulips and hyacinths emerge a few inches, do the same for them. Fertilizer is especially helpful in getting another season or two out of tulips. They re-bloom, but I do not think of them as long-lasting members of a flower bed like daffodils. Waiting for these green tips makes it easy to locate the bulbs and sprinkle the fertilizer right where it is needed. Rainfall will wash it into the ground.

Brachey: nbrachey@charlotteobserver.com
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