Spring has sprung. Leaves are appearing from below ground, bursting from buds on bare branches, closely followed by flowers. Occasionally though, these flowers don't arrive, much to our disappointment. With daffodils, this occurs frequently enough that a flower no-show has been given its own name - daffodil blindness.
What is Daffodil Blindness?
'Blind' daffodils are those that have flowered the previous year, have sent up nice clumps of foliage that stand proud against the wind and rain, but don't produce flowers.
There are several reasons why this can occur.
Lack of Water
This year I think the primary cause will be the dry conditions we experienced last year. In other years, bulbs planted in a light, free-draining location such as a container experienced the same.
A lack of water immediately after flowering, when the bulbs begin the process of 'fattening up', will have caused the leaves to die back prematurely. This prevents them from pulling in enough energy to be able to flower this year.
Bulbs planted too close together compete for nutrients and water. This will gradually lead to a reduction in size and a halt to flower production. Daffodils can also be crowded by surrounding trees and shrubs, whose spreading foliage and roots block their light and absorb all the moisture.
Pests and Diseases
The narcissus bulb fly can also cause non-flowering, but its larvae are the real problem. Creamy white and up to 1.8cm long, they eat away the centre of the bulbs so that only a few grass-like leaves are produced. Unfortunately, there is no treatment, so bulbs that are affected should be destroyed.
Several diseases can reduce vigour and distort the leaves, stems and flowers of a daffodil. Of particular note is daffodil basal rot - a fungus that causes foliage to become yellow prematurely and not produce flowers.
Daffodil basal rot is tough to detect and can infect plants through the neck of the bulb after flowering, causing neck rot. If you think this might be the cause in your plants, lift the bulbs as soon as possible after flowering. Check for a pinkish white fungus around the base of the bulb and throw away infected bulbs straight away.
What we can do to help
With a bit of T.L.C., blind daffodils can flower again. They just need a year to restore themselves. Here are several things we can do to help.
- Improve light and dry soils by applying mulch in early spring.
- If your soil has low fertility, apply a slow-release granular feed as soon as the leaves emerge.
- Deadhead spent flowers by pinching them off as they fade. This prevents the plant from wasting energy on forming a seed head.
- Water during dry spells.
- Apply a liquid feed, such as tomato feed, every two weeks until the leaves begin to fade.
- Allow the leaves to die off naturally, giving time for the nutrients to be pulled back into the bulb. If the leaves need to be removed (grass cut etc.), try to wait at least six weeks.
- Leave the leaves untied. Once a popular tidying method, it is now discouraged as it reduces the leaves ability to photosynthesise.
- Filling holes by firming down the soil around leaves and stems, and covering the plants with insect-proof netting from Mid-May to early July can discourage female bulb flies from laying eggs.
- Mark overcrowded clumps that are to be lifted and divided while they are dormant.
If your bulbs have suffered from an infection and you need to purchase replacements, look for the largest bulbs of the best quality you can find. Avoid planting them in the same location and plant them 5 to 8cm apart, at a depth three times their height.
I have two clumps that haven't flowered for me this year, so I'll be lifting and separating during the summer. Although I'm not sure where I'll be planting the offsets as the garden is full and my allotment already has a pretty large daffodil section. The best kind of problem for a gardener, where to put plants!