Daffodils are among my favorite spring bulbs because the squirrels don’t bother with them and I get a dependable display of cheerful flowers every spring. Knowing when to cut back daffodils after they’ve bloomed is a good way to guarantee next year’s flowers. Unfortunately, that means being patient and dealing with a bit of untidiness in the garden. In this article, I’m going to share some tips on timing your daffodil pruning, why it’s important, and how to deal with the foliage as it dies back.
Daffodils multiply underground through bulb division, so the daffodil clumps in your garden can become fuller over time. I love to plant a mix with different bloom times to extend my daffodil growing season for as long as possible. Besides a whole range of yellows, there are daffodil varieties that have orange centers, while others come in shades of peach to pink, and some are almost white.
Deadheading dead daffodil blooms
If you were able to leave some flowers in the garden to enjoy (I tend to bring some inside for a dose of spring in a vase), you can deadhead the plants. Removing a spent daffodil flower head helps the plant concentrate on next year’s bloom, rather than producing seed. Wait until the daffodil flower has died back completely before taking a sharp pair of pruners and cutting the flower off where it meets the stem. You can also pinch them off with your finger. Toss the flowers into the compost.
What not to do with daffodil foliage
One year, either on Pinterest or Instagram, I saw a photo where someone had braided their daffodil foliage so it would look tidier in the garden as it died. I thought it was pretty clever, so I eagerly braided all the daffodil foliage in my front yard garden. It turns out braiding, tying foliage, or making a knot from it is not beneficial to the plant. In fact, it can stymie flower production for next year, depleting the energy needed to create it.
After daffodils have bloomed, the dying leaves are used by the plant as energy to form next year’s flowers. The plants—both the flower stalk and the leaves—will absorb nutrients for about four to six weeks after the flowers die back, enjoying the sunlight and spring showers. Those nutrients travel back down the leaves into the bulb, recharging it for the following year. Tying or twisting the leaves in any way prevents that energy from making its way back to the bulb.
When to cut back daffodils
Before removing your daffodil foliage, you need to let it die completely. If you don’t like the unsightliness of the slowly decomposing leaves, plant other perennials or shrubs nearby. Hostas, peonies, coreopsis, hydrangeas, ninebarks, and elderberries are all good choices. As the leaves of those plants start to fill in, they’ll gradually cover some or all of the dying daffodil leaves.
This is actually a good time of year to plant other things, too, because you won’t accidentally dig up the daffodil bulbs. You can see where they are!
After your daffodil has finished blooming, allow the green leaves to turn yellow and brown. It will seem like an eternity, but it takes at least four to six weeks. At this point, you can take your pruners and prune the dead foliage where it meets the soil line. I find that the foliage is ready when it comes away after a gentle tug. Usually I’ll just get into the garden with a gloved hand and gently pull all that spent foliage away.
I don’t usually fertilize my bulbs, but I do amend the soil in my gardens in the spring with compost. Here is an article I wrote about fertilizing fall-planted bulbs.
Learn more about interesting flower bulbs