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Digging and dividing daffodils

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By Jeneen Wiche

If your daffodils didn’t bloom well this year, ask yourself these two questions: Did you allow the foliage to die back naturally last summer before you cut it off? Has it been eons since they were last divided?

Patience is a virtue when it comes to daffodils. Often the first color to appear in early spring, their beauty is long awaited. Then we have to wait another two months before we can remove the dulling green foliage. The foliage gathers nutrients for the bulb to store over winter, allowing it to grow and bloom next spring. If you remove the foliage prematurely, you greatly reduce the blooms for next year. Dead-heading the spent blossoms will help prolong blooming and allow more nutrients to be absorbed by the bulb when the bloom cycle is complete.

If it has indeed been eons since you last divided your daffodil clumps, plan to do so when the foliage dies back naturally in mid-June. Daffodils should be divided every five to seven years; and if you do it when the foliage is ready to be cut back, at least you can easily locate what you want to dig.

Use a pitch fork to pop up your bulbs. A pitchfork is less likely to sever the bulbs and helps to loosen the soil around them. Once the bulbs are out of the ground, clean them off and then check them over. Discard any bulbs that are soft, bruised or punctured by your pitchfork, if the case may be. Pretend you are selecting onions form the grocery store. Any damage means that they are more likely to rot. Break apart the loosely attached “baby” bulbs, leaving those that are firmly attached to the mother bulb. These larger bulbs will produce more bloom next spring. The baby bulbs will need a year to grow.

It is best, and more convenient, to replant your bulbs right away. This way you do not need to worry about curing and storing them properly until fall planting. I like to plant clusters of large and small bulbs so the smaller, non-flowering bulbs are not so noticeable. Or, plant the smallest bulbs in an area where they can mature for a year and then move them where they can be enjoyed.

A well-drained environment is essential to growing healthy daffodils, or else they may rot. To prepare your planting area, dig down about 10 inches so you can add a special concoction to ensure good drainage. Helen Trueblood, a Southern Indiana daffodil aficionado, calls it “chomp” because she adds perlite, river gravel, sand, compost and calcium enriched bulb-boosting fertilizer (low in nitrogen) and then “chomps” it all together. Drop your bulb in, and cover it with a light soil and compost mixture and water.

Plant bulbs at a depth about two to three times their diameter, and about four to eight inches apart. Choose a site that will camouflage the foliage after blooming is complete. Ground cover beds in your landscape are ideal because the ground cover helps to maintain soil moisture and the foliage is not as noticeable against the green back drop. Keep in mind that they will not always nod their heads towards you and your vantage point. Daffodil blooms nod their heads towards the sun, so plant them with any shade coming from behind the bed.