Proper post-bloom care keeps spring bulbs healthy for generations


My daffodil blooms have all but disappeared. This was a short season due to a warm stretch this March. I don’t have any tulips or hyacinths, but the ones I’ve seen around town are following the same path. Once these plants have flowered they have lost their attractiveness.

Every spring people ask me when they can cut their bulbs back. Ideally they should be allowed to die and dry up naturally, but aesthetically that’s not always possible. Some pruning is advantageous though.

Most Dutch bulbs should be deadheaded as soon as the flowers wither. Remove the seedpods before they develop. That will conserve energy and result in more vigorous bulbs for next season. Pruning flower stalks close to the ground is even better as all energy can go into the foliage and back to the bulbs. Stronger bulbs mean showier blooms next spring.

That doesn’t usually satisfy people. They want to know when they can cut off the foliage and plant their summer flowers or mow their lawn. The quick answer is that leaves should be allowed to grow until they turn yellow. That probably means five or six weeks.

Some folks braid daffodil foliage after flowering. This concentrates the leaves in a smaller space and makes room for bedding plants to take over. Folding over the leaves and gathering them with a rubber band is another method I’ve seen. I’m not a big fan of either technique. Both hinder photosynthesis and can make foliage more prone to disease.

My preferred approach is to camouflage daffodil, tulip or hyacinth foliage. Planting perennials like daylilies, Shasta daisies or hosta around Dutch bulbs can be effective. These will start to grow and mask the offending plants. Annual flowers will work, too, but it’s often too cold right now for them to thrive.

If companion plants are used there is often no need to prune the leaves. They can die down naturally. If pruning is necessary, once the leaves turn yellow they should be cut as close to the ground as possible. A layer of mulch is also helpful as is will help keep the ground cooler.

When daffodils are surrounded by grass we have to split the difference between what’s healthiest for the turf and what’s best for the flowers. This is far from an ideal situation and I don’t recommend mixing bulbs and grass, especially tall bulbs like daffodils.

If you already have them and want to maintain the pair you’ll have to let the lawn stay long for a while. If you have warm-season turf like bemudagrass, that might not be a big problem. Mow around the areas containing bulbs until you notice leaves turning yellow. Then go ahead and mow the lawn, remembering you’ll probably have raking or bagging to do.

Shorter flowers like crocus, grape hyacinth or snowdrops are better companions with lawn grasses. Still, the same rules apply. If you trim back the bulbs before foliage turns yellow you soon won’t have any more flowers.

Lilac seed pods need to be removed.

Lilac seed pods need to be removed.

These daffodil leaves detract from a lawn for a few weeks but they're worth it.

These daffodil leaves detract from a lawn for a few weeks but they’re worth it.

 

Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School (tmanzer@ecpps.k12.nc.us).

 

 

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About tedmanzer

I grew up in Old Town Maine and got a B.S. at the University of Maine in Plant Sciences/ minor in Botany. From there I moved to West Virginia and earned a M.S. in Agronomy at WVU. I also met my wife there. She grew up in rural WV as the daughter of tenant farmers who raised cattle and hogs. Their lifestyle at times was one of subsistence and I learned a lot from them. I've always been a foraging buff, but combining my formal botanical knowledge with their practical 'Foxfire-type' background opened up my eyes a little more. I now teach agriculture to high school students at Northeastern High School in Elizabeth City, NC. My wife teaches with me and we make a great team. I also write a weekly nature/foraging column for the local paper (dailyadvance.com) and frequently publish articles in several other newspapers in northeastern North Carolina. I also have written several Christian nature/adventure novels that I plan to publish eventually. One is a five book family saga I call the 'Forgotten Virtues' series. In the first book, Never Alone, a young boy comes of age after his father dies in a plane crash, and he has to make it alone. Never Alone is now available in paperback, Kindle and Nook. The second book, Strange Courage, takes Carl from his High School graduation to his recovery from a nasty divorce. The third book, Second Chances, takes Carl from his ex-wife's death and the custody of his son to his heroic death at age 59. The fourth book, Promises Kept, depicts how his grandchildren react and adjust to his death. In the final book, Grandfather's Way, his youngest and most timid granddaughter emerges from the shadow of her overachieving family and accomplishes more in four months than most do in a lifetime. I use many foraging references with a lot of the plants I profile in these articles in those books.
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