Beautiful bulbs, dying daffodils

We planted a lot of daffodil bulbs in the autumn in the shady triangle. Most of the miniature ones (Tete a tete) came up and flowered beautifully, along with quite a few of the large daffodils at the back of the plot. But the off-white narcissi in the middle of the triangle have only just flowered, sluggishly and half-heartedly, while the irises at the apex produced green shoots and leaves, but no flowers.

Why? The RHS site suggests that bulb blindness may be caused by dry conditions, shallow planting, late planting or poor nutrition on light soils. All of these factors could have applied to our planting, though I don’t think we planted too shallow and I know we worked in lots of bone meal at planting time. But we did plant well into October and November last year, and we have had a very dry winter. We mulched, however, with both wood chip (October, November) and with soil enhancer from recycling (March). Feeding with potassium-rich feed such as tomato feed after flowering seems to be recommended, so that our bulbs can build up resources for next year.

And that’s one of the counter-intuitive things about bulbs: you have to look after them carefully, or at least allow them to look after themselves, after they have flowered and as they start to die down. The daffodils and other bulbs are now at that difficult stage where flowers are gone (we dead-headed most of them) but straggly green leaves are flopping are all over the place. The temptation is to ‘tidy them up’ – tying them, plaiting them or cutting them back. But no: the leaves provide the food for next season and need to be left for at least six weeks after flowering, ideally just dying down naturally to a shrivelled brown and then removed.

The art is to hide the daffodil leaves under the burgeoning foliage of other plants. Certainly, most of the plants in the shady triangle have grown richly these past few weeks, so this should be possible. And then, feed the daffodils along with the tomatoes?

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