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Daffodils require fertilizer now

Daffodils will bloom in March but require a dose of fertilizer in early to mid-February for best performance
Daffodils will bloom in March but require a dose of fertilizer in early to mid-February for best performance Observer file photo

Practically nothing makes my heart sing more than the first sight of green tips of daffodils poking through the earth. This is a wonderful thing because it tells me the buds of this year’s flowers are on their way and will show up in March, maybe sooner.

Apart from the joy is a reminder of an important task to be done for these important members of the landscape: a dose of fertilizer.

While, to you, they may seem to be sleeping, they are not. They shook off dormancy and are actively growing and fertilizer will feed this growth and encourage the vigor to produce next year’s blooms. That’s important because few events in the garden are more discouraging than the failure of daffodils to bloom.

Putting down an application of fertilizer in mid-winter is an easy task. It does not require much fertilizer. The usual recommendation is to sprinkle about 3 pounds of 8-8-8 or 10-10-10 garden fertilizer on 100 square feet of flower bed. Or, if you use a specially formulated fertilizer, apply at the rate directed on the package.

Rain will dissolve the granules, sending nutrients into the soil where roots absorb them. This will aid formation of flower buds in the bulb that will stay dormant through the summer and autumn until dormancy breaks once again next winter.

This fertilizer is also helpful in getting a second, maybe even a third year of bloom out of tulips, which don’t have quite the staying power of daffodils. They require the same fertilizing rate as do daffodils and the same timing: once the green tips poke out of the ground.

It is still winter, and the threat of very cold weather remains. But these green tips are very hardy and you should not worry that even a very deep freeze will harm them. There can be damage to open blooms when the occasional deep freeze occurs in March, but that can be avoided by cutting the flowers and bringing them indoors before it gets frigid.

The greater danger is that this new foliage may get stepped on and squashed by wandering feet. Try to avoid this because broken leaves reduce the health of bulbs.

With fertilizer and careful tending, daffodils should bloom for years. However, they can become crowded and this will reduce the amount and size of blooms. At that time, the bulbs should be dug, divided and replanted. This is a job for late spring or early summer, after the foliage has turned yellow or brown, which signals the bulbs have gone quiet again.

Ask Nancy

Q. I was wondering if now was an OK time to prune my miniature lilacs, or will that interfere with them blooming in the spring?

A. Lilacs, like most flowering shrubs should be pruned immediately after they bloom to prevent loss of flowers. Yours looks like a very robust plant and I am thinking you want to thin out the large thicket of stems. That would probably be OK to do now with restraint, keeping in mind that you are removing flowering wood. The plant would look better with a bit of thinning, but not much.