Wherefore art thou?

The daffodils are definitely on their way towards peak and if I had to guess I’d still predict that peak will be perfectly timed during next week’s school vacation.

(see below for the latest “daff cam” shot. And in case this is your first time checking out the “daff cam”, it’s a bit of a misnomer. It is not a live video feed. Rather, every few days I stand on the millstone at the entrance to the Bosquet to take another shot. Very low-tech time-lapse photography. Click on images for larger view; hover over for captions.)

But what if the daffodils didn’t bloom? We’d feel stricken – betrayed and letdown. Unlike fly-by-night tulips, daffodils are supposed to faithfully increase, bloom every year, and outlive us. It’s almost ironic then that Narcissus are associated with unrequited love (due to their frustrated namesake from Greek mythology) and every year we get the question, “why aren’t my daffodils blooming?” In a comment on last week’s post, Marianne asked,

I have 10 different varieties of daffodils and this year only 3 varieties will bloom. I have heard that overcrowding can decrease bloom but not all are crowded! The blooming ones are in the warmer spots but in prior years all were blooming away. Could feeding them have led to more foliage and less bloom? Do they have a “rest year”?

Gail and I think that yes, like other plants they do sometimes take a rest. And the weather over the course of the year probably has a significant impact. For instance, last year we had 15″ of rain at the end of March and then heat and all of our daffodils bloomed, early and late varieties, all at once – about 2 weeks early. But after that rain we had next to nothing for the rest of the summer and if any of our clumps look thin on blooms this year I’d be inclined to blame drought stress. It has also been a dry (until today) and chilly spring so far and for that reason I expect the late daffs to be late (by which I mean, on time) and some of them might not even be showing buds yet.

Sometimes daffodils stop blooming when the clump becomes too tightly root-bound and hemmed in by tree roots or rocks. I’ve also heard that they might peter out if more than one variety is planted in the same clump (the way many catalogs sell them, alas) probably because some out compete others. As far as feeding them, any high nitrogen fertilizer would encourage more leafy growth than flower production. And the amount of shade is another very important factor. Granted, the ones that are blooming for us now are the earliest varieties (mostly ‘Ice Follies’) but the clumps blooming their little hearts out totally gangbusters are the ones in more sun.

It’s also very necessary to leave their foliage intact to the bitter end. Despite falling over and looking terrible, it keeps photosynthesizing to feed next year’s blooms. It may be safely removed after it has turned yellow – or at least give it 6-8 weeks before giving it the chop.

Are any of your daffodils “resting” this year? Why do you think? And when will you come take a walk through ours?

One thought on “Wherefore art thou?

  1. My problem is that the foliage hangs on here forever. They will be fallen will much yellowing but just enough green that come JULY I take matters in my own hands and go for it. I’ve found that water is usually do my clumps in. Too much and they don’t come back.

    Susan, thanks for mentioning the drowning problem – I meant to! They hate wet feet – though a well-timed spring rain, even a deluge evidently, is good stuff. And I think you can safely whack foliage back sooner than July – we cut the ones in the Rose Garden back after only 6 weeks (it’s too ugly and front&center to keep any longer) and they’ve been fine. -kris

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