Volume 14, Issue 42 ~ October 19 - October 25, 2006

The Bay Gardener

By Dr. Frank Gouin

Dig Now for Springtime Color

Get those daffodil bulbs in the soil

Whether you call them narcissus, daffodils or jonquils, these spring plants are perennials in Southern Maryland. Unlike tulips, they’ll gladly bloom year after year. Now’s the time to tend your bulbs so you’ll have yellow blooms bursting through melting snow.

Last spring, did you notice that your daffodil flowers appeared smaller than the year before? If so, the bulbs are over-crowded and competing for water, nutrients and space. It is a good practice to dig and divide daffodil bulbs at five-to-eight-year intervals.

Dig up daffodil bulbs after all of the foliage has died and dried to the ground. By allowing the foliage to completely die down before harvesting, you are preventing rot-causing organisms from devouring the bulbs. As the leaf tissues die, an abscission layer is formed in the neck of each bulb, which serves as a barrier against invasion by microorganisms.

When digging, avoid damaging the bulbs. Cut or bruised bulbs should be discarded. Try not to damage or remove the tunic, the papery skin covering each bulb, which prevents the bulb from drying out either in the ground or in storage. If soil sticks to the bulbs, put them in a shaded area and allow the soil to dry for easy removal. After the soil falls off, dust the bulbs with Captan dust by placing a dozen bulbs in a large paper bag with a couple tablespoons of Captan dust and shake vigorously for a few seconds. Hang the dusted bulbs in meshed onion bags for maximum air circulation, or in a single layer on 10-by-20 greenhouse trays stacked loosely with an air space above and below each tray. Store in a cool dry place until late September or early October.

Now it’s time to plant those bulbs. Dig deep, at least eight inches, to minimize daughter bulbs. This also keeps the bulbs from being crowded, keeping your plantings attractive longer.

Don’t use a bulb-planting tool, which makes holes too shallow and compresses the soil along the walls of the hole, especially if the soil contains large amounts of silt or clay. If you are planting your daffodils in beds, plant them in clusters in 12-inch-diameter holes dug 12 inches deep. Or excavate an area 12 inches deep.

Blend equal parts compost and topsoil and layer the soil four inches thick across the bottom of the hole before planting. Position the bulbs upright for uniform blooming in the first year. To ease crowding, space the bulbs three to four inches apart. Cover with the compost/topsoil blend. The compost will supply all of the nutrient needs through the first growing season.

Plant your daffodils deep and you can also plant tulips, hyacinth, crocus and more seasonal flowers above the daffodil bulbs without fear of damaging the bulbs with digging tools.

Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at [email protected]. All questions will appear in Bay Weekly. Please include your name and address.

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