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!”