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After blooms fade, let daffodils keep their leaves

Bulbs need that foliage to rebloom next year

Fading narcissus blooms with green foliage
The pretty spring blooms from bulbs are fading fast. Leave the leaves so the plant can store energy and rebloom next spring. (Photos: Kathy Morrison)

This has been a long and spectacular bloom season for daffodils, narcissus, anemones and other spring bulbs in Sacramento-area gardens.

But our June-like weather this week quickly brought that early spring show to an abrupt end. Temperatures in the mid-80s dried up remaining blooms and browned the last late-blooming narcissus.

Now, what to do with those straggly remains?

With spring bulbs, pruning off spent flowers usually is a matter of aesthetics. But leave the leaves; that foliage still has work to do.

Faded daffodil bloom
It's tempting to cut all the foliage back after a daffodil fades,
but let those leaves go brown and then pull them.

“Bulbs use their foliage to produce the energy they need to form new flowers,” according to the bulb experts at Longfield Gardens, a major U.S. bulb producer. “So, if you want your bulbs to rebloom, it’s important to leave the foliage in place until it has withered and turned yellow. When the foliage can be pulled away from the bulb with a gentle tug, it’s ready to go.”

Some bulbs will shed their foliage within days; others will hang onto their leaves until July.

“The foliage of early-blooming bulbs such as chionodoxa and scilla fades away very quickly,” notes Longfield Gardens’ bulb experts. “Larger bulbs take longer; a few weeks or a few months, depending on the weather and the type of bulb.”

Trim off spent tulips right after they fade; quick deadheading will coax the bulb to rebloom next spring. Daffodils don’t need deadheading, except to tidy up a flower border or bed. Small bulbs such as crocus and snowdrops spread by seed, so leave those flowers to encourage multiplying. Alliums also tend to self-sow; if you don’t want lots of alliums, remove those flower heads.

Some gardeners tie up their daffodil foliage, but that can cut down on the leaves’ ability to photosynthesize and create energy for its bulb. It’s better to leave the leaves loose.

Longfield Gardens suggests hiding the ripening foliage with companion plants.

“In perennial gardens, you can let the foliage of other plants hide the leaves,” say its garden advisers. “Hostas, daylilies, nepeta and perennial geraniums are a few of the perennials that are good at covering the spent foliage of tulips, daffodils and alliums.”

Cornell University studied this method and came up with 15 best perennial and bulb combinations. See it here:

“Another option is to plant your bulbs in a dedicated area where you won’t mind seeing the foliage,” Longfield Gardens says. “For tulips and hyacinths, this could be in a cutting garden or even part of your vegetable garden. Alliums and daffodils are ideal for wilder areas where their ripening foliage will be out of sight.”

If you have the time, energy and room, move the bulbs so their foliage can age gracefully out of sight, Longfield Gardens suggests. “It's also possible to dig up your spring bulbs immediately after they finish flowering and replant them – with their foliage still attached – in a holding bed. When fall comes, dig up the bulbs and move them back.”


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Dig In: Garden checklist for week of Feb. 5

Make the most of sunny days and get winter tasks done:

* This is the last chance to spray fruit trees before they bloom. Treat peach and nectarine trees with copper-based fungicide. Spray apricot trees at bud swell to prevent brown rot. Apply horticultural oil to control scale, mites and aphids on fruit trees soon after a rain. But remember: Oils need at least 24 hours to dry to be effective. Don’t spray during foggy weather or when rain is forecast.

* Feed spring-blooming shrubs and fall-planted perennials with slow-release fertilizer. Feed mature trees and shrubs after spring growth starts.

* Finish pruning roses and deciduous trees.

* Remove aphids from blooming bulbs with a strong spray of water or insecticidal soap.

* Fertilize strawberries and asparagus.

* Transplant or direct-seed several flowers, including snapdragon, candytuft, lilies, astilbe, larkspur, Shasta and painted daisies, stocks, bleeding heart and coral bells.

* In the vegetable garden, plant Jerusalem artichoke tubers, and strawberry and rhubarb roots.

* Transplant cabbage and its close cousins – broccoli, kale and Brussels sprouts – as well as lettuce (both loose leaf and head).

* Plant artichokes, asparagus and horseradish from root divisions.

* Plant potatoes from tubers and onions from sets (small bulbs). The onions will sprout quickly and can be used as green onions in March.

* From seed, plant beets, chard, lettuce, mustard, peas, radishes and turnips.

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