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If daffodils disappointed you this spring, take action now

Daffodils are among the most-favored flowers and it’s disappointing when bloom is poor due to shade or crowding.
Daffodils are among the most-favored flowers and it’s disappointing when bloom is poor due to shade or crowding. File photo

One topic never fails to generate mail this time of year: daffodils that didn’t bloom.

And by this time, gardeners are getting over their disappointment and are determined to do something about it. Well, the time is now. With daffodil foliage turning yellow, the plants are going dormant, and this is the opportunity to do something about crowded or misplaced daffodils.

By misplaced, I mean daffodils that do not get enough sunlight to generate buds and blooms. That is a common reason for poor or nonexistent bloom, and they should be moved.

By crowded, I mean bulbs that have grown for some years in the same place and are now a dense thicket of leaves but no flowers. These are ripe to be dug, divided and replanted over the next few weeks.

Daffodils get crowded because of the natural development of the bulbs below ground, which tends to make fewer and smaller blooms.

Prepare to dig

Doing this work now means you can see, thanks to the yellow or brown foliage, exactly where the bulbs are in the ground. Waiting to do this in midsummer means you may not be as certain where they are as you prepare to dig. You could mark the area with golf tees or the narrow plastic tags that often accompany bedding plants. The goal is to dig just outside the bulbs’ area so you don’t risk piercing them with spade, shovel or fork.

Damp soil is also helpful because the soil is softer and easier to dig. If rain is forecast, wait for it.

Have newspaper or a cardboard box handy to set the clumps on once you get them out of the ground and shake off as much soil as possible. Gardeners are often surprised that an individual bulb has multiplied into several of varying sizes. This explains the crowding that you saw aboveground.

With the bulbs on newspaper or in a shallow box, gently separate them by pulling the younger, newer ones away from the mother bulbs. Then trim away any lingering foliage.

You may have a surprising number; separate them by size into groups of small medium and large.


Depending on the space you have, choose the bigger bulbs which will produce flowers fastest, then decide on the medium-sized ones and choose the best among them, but they will likely need a couple of years to produce flowers. Unless you have a lot of time and space to devote to this project, I would not mess with the tiny bulbs, which will take several years to bloom.

Replant the bulbs 6 to 8 inches deep in well-drained soil. They must have full sun.

Some of you have asked about digging the bulbs now and replanting in the fall, as we do with newly purchased bulbs. You can do this fairly easily. After you dig, divide and clean the bulbs, let them dry naturally for a day or two, then store them in a shallow cardboard box. Keep them in a cool, dry place through the summer.

Ask Nancy

Q. What is the name of a houseplant that I can keep in my office and that doesn’t get too big for my desk? It is fairly dim. Please don’t suggest philodendron, because I think it is boring.

A. As a starter plant for your office garden, consider the pothos, sometimes called devil’s ivy. It is a trailing plant that grows reasonably fast in low light and brings no problems with it. Chinese evergreen is a beautiful houseplant with interesting coloration on the foliage. With either plant, let the soil dry out between watering.