My GardenRant partner Scott wrote about his hundreds of daffodils now “writhing about in their death throes, getting all Shakespearean and shit,” and I bet we can all relate. Though unlike his hilarious imaginings, if we dare to remove the spent foliage before we’re supposed to we may not actually hear from a representative of the Daffodil Society “beating her breasts” and crying “No, no, no!” but we do hear the breast-beating in our heads because we’ve heard and read so many times that they must be allowed to wither in place or – gasp! – they won’t bloom as well the next year.
In Scott’s case, after landing in the “county lockup” over his daffodil transgression, his daff-affirming spirit prevails as he writes a note to self: “Order more daffs.” Hear, hear!
As a fellow transgressor, I must weigh in with a deep dive into the reproach in hopes of defending my own daffodil practices, with the help of a true deep-diver, the podcaster Leslie Harris (no relation). In her latest episode she admits that her mass plantings of daffodils are “not bringing joy to my heart,” yet:
You gotta leave the foliage until it starts to wither. Don’t fold it up, don’t braid it, otherwise you might as well just cut it off because the energy from the sun needs to get to the roots…Anyway tying up those stems will keep the vascular tubes, which are called phloem, from doing their job, which is to get energy from the sun down to the roots of the bulbs, of the plants. I have heard evidence that once the foliage is actually down on the ground, not sticking up but maybe still green, you are good to go on getting rid of it.”
Me, I like to protect my groundcovers and emerging perennials from being flopped onto by the daffodil foliage – and admittedly, because I agree with Leslie that the dying foliage makes parts of the garden look like “a dog’s breakfast” – so I give myself permission to sacrifice just a few blooms for this good cause. So I was happy to find support for my rule-breaking in her thorough exploration of the topic:
The conduit, phloem, would be bent in such a way that the food from the sun probably wouldn’t flow very well to the roots through that vascular system…Finger combing it all in one direction so that it not at least completely crazy could help you, but don’t go too hard on it because of what I talked about, about breaking down that system. Once it’s down and once it’s brown, there’s certainly no reason to have it around, and I tend to get rid of it even before it’s brown. I know that’s cheating, but I do.
Wait! So as long as I don’t “go too hard on it” and stop the flow, I’m not reducing next year’s bloom count? Take a look at the top photo here of my careful, respectful tying-up of daff leaves so that they stand tall – with uninterrupted phloem!!! It’ll stay in that position until it finally flops down and is yankable, having gotten presumably plenty of sun energy down into the bulb.
Or how about this other treatment I’ll admit to you guys, though not to the Daff Society breast-beater – simply laying the foliage on the ground. Sure, not as many leaves are getting full sun but look, the bending is gentle enough for the phloem to be flowable, right?Honestly, the rules have always seemed a bit anal to me, as my daffodils bloom plenty the next year and if the bloom count is a bit lower because of my gardening practices, I can live with it.
I take heart in knowing that even Leslie, a former professional gardener whose garden I’ve seen and lusted over, transgresses a bit in her impatience with the dog-breakfast look. I say “Permission given!”
Is this just a garden habit from long ago like double digging your beds?
Can’t we have some authoritative organization do a thorough professional comparison for 5 years or some decent length of time of daffs left to brown and daffs mowed down green and see if their is truth to this? Like Mt. Cuba? (I think they do these long plant studies.)
I see gardens that whack them off while green and doesn’t seem to phase them. They bloom quite profusely the next year.
I wish! I’d race to sign up for the next available program slot at my garden club, just to see the faces in the audience.
Seeing this in writing gives me even more resolve. The rest goes TODAY. Thanks for the permission, Susan 🙂
Pfftt.. I tie up the daffodil foliage with twine as seen in your pic, and my daffodils are none the worse for wear. They come back in all of their glory year after year. I just can’t have them sprawling all over onto emerging perennials. Just yesterday, I tied some up and lo and behold, there was a balloon flower emerging underneath that floppy foliage.
Very cool and that makes sense. The photo show loosely tied and naturally controlled foliage. I had at it in my garden yesterday (FINALLY!) and had so much fun watching the treasures emerge. You know the biggest culprit for me is the Camassia. It’s so late that the foliage was all terribly fresh. But I have lost patience before, and they do come back beautifully.
Agreed, Susan, all with you. My relationship with daffodil leaves is more of a truce: I try to get along with them, but they shouldn’t expect me to respect their every whim. In nature, I’m sure, leaves get stepped upon by animals, destroyed by falling trees or flooding, overgrown by other plants… whatever. And the daffodils still come back next spring. Nature is more resilient than we give it credit for. Some of the old garden rules, I feel, were invented by people who had gardening staff for their estates. Today’s working gardeners need more sense of practicability. That being said, I love my daffodils, and where they aren’t in the way, I just leave them be. And wait patiently for next spring. And maybe indeed a Mt. Cuba study on the issue?
This wouldn’t be one for Mt Cuba as they work with native North American species only, but perhaps someone could put a word in the ear of Richard Hawke at Chicago Botanic squeaking it into his trials. A fun experiment that many would follow — though I’m sure it’s been done and redone somewhere. —MW
I think anyone who has the time to do anything at all to daffs after flowering needs to volunteer in a charity shop or homeless shelter or verge clearing project or try Zen meditation.
We cut off the spent blooms of our daffodils and leave the foliage alone until the end of May. Then we chop it back to about six inches (it forms a fan-like form) and let it wither and due. In the interim, late emerging plumbago pops up to cover the dying daffodil foliage. We’ve done this for approximately 30 years with no adverse effect on flowering the following spring. Our original planting of 500 bulbs planted under several river birches has increased yearly. Zone 6b in suburban Pittsburgh, PA.
I’ve started this weekend to just remove the foliage, green. Ripping it out. Looking at the plants, I don’t want the ones I’m ripping out to be even more vigorous. I probably just need to dig some of the clumps again, and thin them out. Maybe I’ll make a curbside free bin…
I am no botanist, but when the foliage begins to bend, I cut to that point. As Leslie notes, the vascular system is shot above that point. It means more cutting back, but lacking the dead weight above, I speculate the foliage actually gets more energy because it is up and sturdy longer. Those Garden Professors should do a study! The research does indicate that braiding is for people not bulb growth…
I have double trouble with ugly strappy-leafed fading foliage, because I have the foliage from my Spider Lilies (Lycoris radiata) that has given me a nice green show all winter now dying as the daffs are emerging and blooming. Then, once the daffs are done, their foliage fades away. The spider lily foliage I (or my handsome helper) mows the biggest patch in the yard down once I determine they are either: a. brown enough, or b. I’m sick of looking at them. The daff foliage I tend to just forget about, because they get lost in all the weeds I haven’t had time to pull yet! 😉