This month I’m dedicating my column to my favorite harbinger of spring: the daffodil.

Photography by Mark Fonville and Hortus LTD

 

 It’s a signature bloom at Moss Mountain Farm where we have planted more than 300,000 bulbs. Even when March weather is being fickle — balmy one day and snowing the next — I can always count on the sunny faces of daffodils to assure me that spring is indeed around the corner. When they bloom, the view out of my kitchen window is a sea of golden trumpets.

QUESTION: I would like to dig up some daffodils and replant them somewhere else. What is the best time of year to do that: now or in the fall?

ANSWER: Spring is a great time to transplant daffodils because the foliage is visible so that you will have no trouble seeing them. Just remember the name of the game here is to keep the leaves green as long as possible to recharge the bulb for next year’s flower. For the best results, wait about eight weeks after the blooms have faded to move your daffodils. If you can’t tackle the job in spring, you can do it in fall. Mark the spot with a stake, and you’ll know where to dig.

Daffodil foliage is safe from freezing temperatures because the plant produces an antifreeze from insoluble starches.

Daffodil foliage is safe from freezing temperatures because the plant produces an antifreeze from insoluble starches.

As you dig up your daffodils, keep the foliage intact. You may find that the bulbs have multiplied. If this is the case, gently separate the clumps. Choose a spot with well-draining soil and that receives full- to partial-sun. Dig a hole that is three times as deep as the bulb is tall; add some compost; and place the bulb in the bottom with the foliage end pointing up. Cover the bulbs with soil and water well.

This coming fall, apply an all-purpose liquid fertilizer to the area to feed the roots and get the bulbs ready for spring. Be certain to follow the manufacturer’s directions as well.

QUESTION: I moved into a new house last fall with an established garden. I have been eagerly waiting to see what blooms this spring. I noticed that daffodils have already started to flower, but there is a good chance we’ll have a late freeze. Should I be worried about losing these blooms?

It’s always a little frustrating when spring flowers begin to show color only to get frostbitten by a late freeze. However, when it comes to daffodils, I’ve learned not to worry too much because nature has endowed these plants with antifreeze. When temperatures drop, daffodils convert insoluble starches to sugars, which protect the plant.

A short period of below-freezing temperatures will not harm foliage or flower buds. However, flowers in full bloom are susceptible to the cold. If a late frost is a threat, just cut a bouquet to enjoy inside. Remember to leave the foliage for as long as possible because this is what reinvigorates the bulb for blooms next year.

Daffodils are my favorite spring flower.

Daffodils are my favorite spring flower.

QUESTION: When my wife retired she received a basket of potted bulbs. They have finished flowering, and I would like to plant them outside. How should I go about doing this?

A basket of spring blooms is a wonderful gift to receive, especially when it is still cold outside, and the garden has not begun to emerge from its winter slumber.

I can understand why you would like to plant the bulbs outdoors to enjoy in the garden next year; however, your success depends on what is in the basket.

Enjoy hyacinths and paper whites while they bloom, then throw the bulbs on the compost pile as they may have been forced in water. Tulips are not reliably perennial in Arkansas where spring is too short for them to recharge for next year’s bloom — the leaves die back too quickly.

Gardeners who live in a region with long, cool springs have better luck growing tulips as perennials, especially the darker hued Darwin hybrids, which have a better reputation for returning. Daffodils and hyacinths grown in soil are the most worthy of the effort to transplant outdoors.

If you want to plant your spring bulbs in the garden, it’s important to let the foliage die back naturally after the blooms fade. The foliage directs energy to the bulb for root growth and developing flowers. Plant the bulbs about three times as deep as the bulb is tall; for example, dig a 6-inch hole for a 2-inch bulb.

To give them a boost, sprinkle an all-purpose fertilizer around the base of the plants. If you want to use something organic, try compost, rock phosphate or a commercial blend that is 10-10-10 or below. Just follow the directions on the back of the fertilizer package for details about quantity.


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