When grown in the right conditions, daffodils can last for three to five years. Some varieties bloom in February, while others start flowering in May for six to eight weeks, and the bulbs survive snowstorms, cold spells, and harsh summer drought. Despite their resilience, daffodils sometimes die prematurely.
Daffodils die so quickly when the bulbs have insufficient food reserves or when they rot. They also die when the flowers go into seed, early defoliation, or when you knot the leaves to make them tidy. Low soil fertility, shallow planting, overcrowding, pests, and diseases also cause premature death.
Daffodils can last a long time. However, sometimes things go wrong, and they die after the first flowering season or shortly after they start to flower. I will discuss the causes in detail and what you can do to keep daffodils from dying.
Why Daffodils Die Prematurely
Daffodils are perennials that come back year after year. They are hardy and can withstand harsh summers and winters. However, sometimes, the flowers start drooping a short while after they bloom, the stems become weak, or growth halts prematurely.
Here are the reasons daffodils die prematurely.
The Bulb Has Limited Food Reserves
Daffodils rely on the bulb to feed the entire plant. Unfortunately, when the bulb has limited food reserves, daffodils will die prematurely. The cause is usually insufficient nutrients in the soil, lack of fertilizer, and poor soil conditions.
For example, the roots will not absorb water and nutrients easily if the soil is too moist and compact. Likewise, when it is too dry, the bulb is not taking in a lot of nutrients, and water intake is limited.
Since the bulb stores food for later use, daffodils tend to be drought tolerant. However, if the bulb does not have enough food stored, it will not have sufficient nutrients to sustain the plant, so it will start dying.
Additionally, inadequate food reserves in the bulb will affect the plant’s ability to produce the next season’s flower buds.
Drought can also cause daffodils to die quickly. Inadequate water is why flowers sometimes die a short while after they bloom. The leaves also droop and start drying early as the plant seeks ways to stay alive without the extra demand for water and nutrients from the flowers and leaves. If the daffodils go without water for longer, the plant will start dying.
Crowding can sometimes cause daffodils to form untidy clumps that are difficult to maintain. Some people choose to tie the leaves into knots after the daffodil has flowered. Unfortunately, knotting may appear neater, but it is harmful to the plant.
The knots interfere with the movement of water and nutrients through the plant.
You should not remove daffodil foliage before they have turned brown and died. The foliage rarely dies back before late June or July for bulbs that bloom in spring. Several factors influence how quickly the foliage dies back, including the weather and the bulbs’ condition.
The foliage in daffodils is critical for food production. Mowing them down or removing them affects the bulb size and the growth vigor. If the plant doesn’t have enough food in its reserve, it will die.
Allowing the Flower To Go Into Seeding
When the daffodils start having capsules at the stem tips, you should deadhead them. This allows the daffodil bulbs to retain energy to produce flowers the following year.
If the plant starts producing seeds, the bulb will utilize too much energy to sustain the seeds. This will deprive the plant of energy for the next growing season.
Collect and use the seeds to produce more daffodils. However, if it is from a hybrid bulb, the plant may be different from the mother plant. Daffodils grown from seed will grow foliage within the first year. However, it will take five to six years to start flowering.
This video shows how and why you should deadhead your daffodils.
Soil With Poor Drainage
Daffodils need plenty of water to thrive, at least in the first couple of weeks. The soil should be moist and well-drained. However, the bulb will start rotting if the soil doesn’t drain well. Since the plant depends on the bulb for survival, the daffodil will begin to die when it starts to rot.
Low Soil Fertility
You need to fertilize daffodils with low nitrogen fertilizer when planting the bulbs. If you are planting bulbs in fall for spring blooms, the fertilizer will help the bulbs set root and survive the cold winter in readiness for spring.
Without fertilizer, the bulbs will not grow large enough to store food reserves to sustain the daffodils throughout the growing season. Fertilizing enhances the shape and vibrant colors of the cheery daffodil flowers. The bulbs also naturalize easily when they are well fed.
If you don’t fertilize the soil, the nutrients in the soil may not be enough to sustain the daffodils. The result will be drying and dying daffodils.
Planting Bulbs in Shallow Holes
Daffodil bulbs should be planted in six- to eight-inch (15.24-20.32 cm) holes. The hole’s depth will determine how big the bulb grows, root depth, and access to nutrients. Bulbs planted in fall are exposed to the cold winter. However, a deep hole guarantees the bulb of the low temperatures necessary to set roots without exposing them to frost.
When you plant the bulbs in a shallow hole, you will expose them to freezing temperatures in winter and high temperatures in summer. Extreme temperature fluctuations can kill the bulbs. The melting snow will also make the soil soggy. So, the bubs are likely to rot.
The other danger of shallow planting is the daffodil bulbs will divide, resulting in many small bulblets. The bulblets will not have sufficient energy to support flowers. This is why some daffodils only get foliage and hardly ever flower. Those that do have tiny flowers, will start dying within a short time.
A bulb planter will help you plant daffodil bulbs easily and at the right depth. Be sure to choose a high-quality one that is made of reinforced steel. So, you will dig easily and faster without worrying that the planter will bend, especially when exposed to heavy soil. Some models come with a depth marker, so you need not worry about shallow planting when using this tool.
Planting Too Late in the Season
If you aim to have spring blooms, you should plant bulbs between September and November. The soil temperature should be low but warm enough to kickstart the growth of roots. If you wait to plant the daffodils, the soil will get too cold, and the bulbs will take too long to start rooting.
If the daffodil bulbs have poorly developed root systems by the time spring rolls in, they will not be ready to sustain the foliage and flowers. Underdeveloped roots deprive the bulbs of sufficient food storage.
When you plant bulbs too close, the result will be overcrowding when the plants start producing foliage and flowers. They will begin competing for water and nutrients, and since they all will be insufficiently fed, they will start dying. The bulbs will also fail to grow to the best size, so they will not have enough food to feed the plant for extended periods.
Overcrowding is sometimes inevitable as the bulbs grow big. However, they will start dividing and clumping, and the space will soon become too small for all the bulbs.
When your daffodil starts producing smaller flowers, chances are the bulbs are overcrowding. If you don’t uproot some bulbs to replant elsewhere, the daffodils will die.
If your bulbs are overcrowded, this video shows how you can separate and replant them.
Pest & Diseases
Daffodils also die prematurely when attacked by pests and diseases. Common pests include the Narcissus eelworm, snails, and Narcissus bulb fly. Some of these pests penetrate the bulb and destroy it from within.
Common diseases that attack daffodils include Narcissus basal rot.
Signs of pests and diseases in daffodils include;
- A small hole at the base of newly dug-up bulbs.
- Soft bulbs, which when split, have a large grub at the center. Sometimes a mass of fly excreta surrounds the hole at the center of the bulb.
- Holes around the outer scale caused by caterpillars.
- Yellow, lumpy lesions on leaves and stems.
- Foliage dies back prematurely.
- Chocolate-brown rot at the base of the bulb.
Tips on How To Keep Daffodils From Dying
Daffodils die quickly sometimes, but you can do the following to ensure your daffodils survive for a long time.
- Plant bulbs six to eight inches (15.24-20.32 cm) into the ground.
- Water deeply when you plant in the fall and then wait for spring. The soil will remain moist as the temperatures fall, so you need not water the bulbs.
- Water regularly in spring as the temperatures rise and the daffodils start growing rapidly.
- Avoid knotting or braiding the leaves after flowering because they are floppy or appear untidy.
- Don’t cut the foliage until they turn brown and die.
- Pick a spot in your garden that gets full sun or partial shade.
- Plant the bulbs four to six inches (10.16-15.24cm) apart. This will allow the daffodils to grow without the risk of overcrowding.
- Look out for pests and diseases so that you can use an effective treatment before the daffodils are damaged extensively.
How long your daffodils survive depends on how you care for them when you plant them. The bulbs you choose will also determine if the daffodils will bloom every year or if they will die prematurely. Apart from attacks from pests and diseases, you have greater control over how well your daffodils turn out.