A customer recently wrote the following question about daffodils not blooming:
“I noted with great interest the instructions for encouraging bulbs to bloom in their first season after transplanting. Would this work for old-yard daffodil/narcissus bulbs? For years I’ve dug bulbs from old houseplaces around here, but I’ve never gotten many blooms for my efforts. I have no problem getting new bulbs to grow and bloom. But these—the ones I most want to bloom—seem just to sit in the ground and put up leaves and a bloom or two here and there. I’m a seasoned (too well seasoned!) gardener, but I’ve been timid around these bulbs, of which there are hundreds. This is the summer I have determined to do something about them. I live in North Central Louisiana, which is pretty much like East Texas.” – Gaye in Ruston, Louisiana
Here are 5 top reasons why daffodils fail to bloom:
1. Location, location, location – like real-estate. Daffodils require at least a half day of full sun in winter, with a whole day of full winter sun being most ideal. The more sun, the more energy the bulb has to produce not only foliage, but a BLOOM!
2. Genetics – like with athletes. All daffodils are not created equal. Pre-World War Two daffodils that have been around for 75+ years bloom faithfully over decades (e.g., Grand Primos and Campernelles). Post-World War Two, non-heirloom daffodils are weaker genetically over the long-haul. Non-heirloom bulbs start the blooming marathon with a sprint, only to run out of steam, failing to thrive in the end. Weaker genes usually generate large blooms for 4-6 years and end up as mostly clumps of foliage after that time (e.g., Carlton and Ice Follies).
3. Planting Depth – As a general rule, plant bulbs 2-3 times each one’s height (bulb heights and sizes vary.) Planting too shallow can result in freezing bulbs in northern regions and scorching bulbs in warmer areas. Planting too shallow can also result in smaller bulbs, increasing only foliage, and runs the risk of surface damage from automobiles, farm equipment, shovels, and weeding with a hoe. On the other hand, planting bulbs too deeply usually increases the size of bulbs, while decreasing their numbers. Planting a bulb too deep into the soil may make the bulb work too hard to produce foliage, resulting in fewer or no blooms (This being said, planting too deeply is generally not the primary issue for daffodils that won’t bloom.)
4. Over-fertilization – Think green. Nitrogen-rich fertilizer and soil produce a lot of green (that’s why people fertilize lawns!) If you feed the green too much, only green will grow. Thus, no blooms. Therefore, fertilize bulbs 1-2 times a year with a low nitrogen (N) fertilizer that is high in phosphorous (P) and potassium (K). A good bulb mix of N-P-K would keep the N at 15 or lower (15-15-15, 10-25-25, etc.) Apply fertilizer moderately when bulbs are first planted, and then once again when they are in bloom.
5. Soil – Generally, most narcissus (such as daffodils) prefer slightly acidic soil and will perform best there. You’ll find this soil stretching from east Texas to the east coast. If your daffodils aren’t blooming, your soil may be too alkaline and need more acidity. Even if you are in the right zone for a bulb, you might not have the best soil pH conditions. Clay-like soils usually need a little more acidity and organic matter to promote the best daffodil growth. Adding acidifying fertilizer can increase clay soil acidity, and adding compost can increase organic matter, improving moisture retention and aeration.
“No universal statements about bulbs can be made – it’s nature, you never know for sure,” says Chris Wiesinger, The Bulb Hunter. Bulb variety, soil conditions, and climate make each situation particular.” This being said, the top 5 reasons given above should generally be helpful in troubleshooting slow-to-bloom daffodils. Leave us a comment below if you have found other solutions for daffodils that are struggling to bloom.