While autumn is just beginning, I’ve already had spring on my mind. Not because I want to wish away fall and winter, but because October is the prime time to plant bulbs. After the long winters here in Northeast Ohio, those first daffodil leaves poking up through the earth are a welcome sign that the end is near. Like a victory flag they shout, “Hallelujah! Spring has finally arrived!” Somewhat anticlimactic though, when for the past few years, the daffodil leaves have not been accompanied by any beautiful yellow blossoms. Not one. I decided to do some research to figure out why. Here’s why daffodils don’t bloom and why it might be time to plant new bulbs before the ground freezes.
Why Daffodils Fail to Bloom:
- Not enough sunlight. The more sun the bulbs receive, the more energy they have to produce flowers.
- Age – Bulbs weaken with time and usually only produce flowers for four to six years.
- Not deep enough. If you don’t plant the bulbs two or three times deeper than the size of the bulb itself, the bulb will freeze in winter and not bloom in the spring. However, be careful not to plant them too deep either. Otherwise, the bulb will have to work too hard to break through the ground and will not produce flowers.
- Alkaline soil – Narcissus prefer alkaline soil. You may need to add some acidity to the soil.
After reading up and trying to remember with my mommy brain the areas where our daffodils were planted, I recognized that not enough sunlight and age were likely the culprits. We have lived here nearly ten years now and many of the bulbs were planted by a previous owner, so those flowers are well past their prime blooming period. The area leading up our driveway and to our front door is virtually all shade and that’s where most of our daffodils are planted. Clearly, it was time to add some new bulbs into the mix. So, I recruited my helper, AKA “No Nap Guy”, in his new favorite Batman boots to assist. Here are a few tips for an enjoyable bulb planting experience.
My Bulb Planting Tips:
- Select an area that does not have rocky soil. A time saver to keep you from working those stones out of the dirt to get deeper. Plus you won’t have to back-peddle and explain to your kids that the phrase you just blurted out was actually “scram it” you “mother rock-er”, and not a less appropriate, yet similar sounding combination of words.
- Use a bulb planting tool, called a “bulb dibber”. This handy helper is much more effective than a trowel. It will save you lots of time and effort digging. It tells you exactly how deep the hole is and you can use it to measure spacing. Plant your bulb two or three times deeper than the bulb is tall. Daffodil bulbs should be planted 6 inches deep and 6 inches apart. The bulb dibber also doubles as your tricep workout for the day.
- Dig all of the holes in one area and do not cover them in with dirt until they are all filled with their bulbs. If you dig each hole, plant the bulb, and then cover it up you will forget where the last whole you dug was. Note: this only applies if you are anal like me and you want the holes to be evenly spaced. Be sure to place the bulb in the ground with the pointy side pointing up and the roots touching the ground. If it is a bulb that does not show roots, the pointy tip should also be up.
- Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, recruit a small helper. I have no memory of planting bulbs in years past. Now when my daffodils bloom each spring I am certain to fondly remember playing in the dirt with a little boy wearing Batman boots and a shark shirt, finding bugs and skipping to the next planting spot while singing songs. What’s better than letting your kids get dirty discovering earthworms and centipedes all while instilling a love of nature and gardening and teaching them to help out around the house? To me, that makes for a pretty great day.