Elisabeth C. Miller Library

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Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: Crocus, Flowering of plants, Narcissus

Many of my crocus and daffodils (especially crocus) didn't flower this year. They don't seem to be in need of separating - none of them have been in the ground for over 3 years and I don't think I overfertilized. Otherwise they seem quite healthy. What might be the problem?


The most common reasons that hardy bulbs like crocus and daffodils fail to flower are these:

1. Planting location: they need to be planted in full sun.
Bulbs; a complete handbook of bulbs, corms, and tubers (by R. Genders, 1973)

2. Drainage or heat: spring flowering bulbs planted in poorly drained soil or too near a heated basement (where heat from the structure warms the soil and interferes with the bulbs' necessary cold treatment) will rot or simply fail to flower.
Daffodils for Home, Garden and Show (by D. Barnes, 1987)

3. Fertilization: high nitrogen fertilizers encourage lush green growth and discourage flowering.
Daffodils for American Gardens (by B. Heath, 1995)

Date 2019-10-10
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Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: Plant care, Narcissus

I'm having a problem with my daffodils. They came up, but very few of them are blooming. This is the third year for them, and the worst turn out. They seem to be turning yellow at the bottom of the plant. They have multiplied well, and came up looking fine. Several of my friends are having the same problem. Could it be because they had so many days of below freezing weather this winter?


We found a helpful article from the American Daffodil Society. Potential causes for a lack of flowers include lack of fertilizer, too much nitrogen fertilizer, shade, competition with other plants, poor drainage, virus, foliage cut off too soon, need to be divided, or weather stress (such as early extreme heat) in the spring.

The cold weather should not have been a problem provided the bulbs were planted deep enough.

Date 2019-06-06
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Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: Tulipa, Planting, Narcissus, Bulbs

Bulbs in pots - when to plant?

Daffodils & tulips wilting in pots now, what to do with them? Can you put them in the ground right now, or should you wait till fall? Keep them dry, wet, what?


Yes, you can put them in the ground right now or you can lift them, keep them dry and plant them in the fall. Growing in pots is stressful to bulbs, so you may find fewer flowers next year.

Most tulips do not flower reliably each year, even if they were grown in the ground, so many people treat them as annuals (dig up and toss!) BUT some tulips do re-flower (Darwin Hybrids, Fosterianas and species tulips) so if you are not sure what you have, go ahead and replant. Both tulips and daffodils dislike summer water, so make sure you either plant them in a place where they will stay dry or make sure they are planted in really well-drained soil. Mixing gravel into the soil can help with drainage.

Date 2019-11-07
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Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: Perennials--Care and maintenance, Narcissus

I bought a nice kit of paperwhites this year. Now, they are done blooming. The only directions about aftercare are: "After flowering, remove the dead flowers and stems, the leaves should continue to grow." Is this plant ever able to flower again? Can they be planted in the garden, and if so, when? Should I not cut the yellow leaves off, like tulips, until they are all yellow, to promote bulb growth next year? Or should I simply throw them out, as they are not capable of re-blooming?


Most sources I consulted say it probably is not worthwhile trying to get your paperwhites (Narcissus) to rebloom. It can take several years for the bulbs to build up enough energy to rebloom. (If you still want to try this, do not cut off the wilted foliage, store the bulbs in a cool but not cold place, and try planting them out in the garden in spring. Paperwhites will naturalize outdoors in warmer climates--zone 9 or 10.)

Date 2020-01-16
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Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: Narcissus

I have heard that alcohol can be used to keep paperwhites from flopping over. Is there any truth to this? How is it administered?


Cornell University has a publication entitled "Pickling Your Paperwhites," by William Miller. Here is an excerpt:
"Recent research conducted by the Flowerbulb Research Program at Cornell University has found a simple and effective way to reduce stem and leaf growth of paperwhites. The 'secret' is using dilute solutions of alcohol. Properly used, the result is paperwhites that are 1/3 to 1/2 shorter, with equal sized flowers that last as long as normal.We suggest planting your paperwhite bulbs in stones, gravel, marbles, glass beads, etc. as usual. Add water as you normally would, then wait about 1 week until roots are growing, and the shoot is green and growing about 1-2" above the top of the bulb. At this point, pour off the water and replace it with a solution of 4 to 6% alcohol, made from just about any 'hard' liquor. You can do the calculations to figure the dilution, but, as an example, to get a 5% solution from a 40% distilled spirit (e.g., gin, vodka, whiskey, rum, tequila), you add 1 part of the booze to 7 parts of water. This is an 8-fold dilution yielding 5% alcohol."

Date 2020-01-16
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Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: Chionodoxa, Vancouveria hexandra, Tiarella, Pulmonaria, Galium, Brunnera, Vinca, Epimedium, Lamium, Platanus, Narcissus, Liliaceae, Geranium

We have a very large beautiful sycamore in our back yard. My roommate thought it would be nice to build a flower garden around the base of the tree, but something tells me that doing so would be harmful to the tree's root system. Is this true? I would love to hear your thoughts.


I think it should be safe to plant shallow-rooted, shade- and drought-tolerant perennials and small bulbs under your sycamore (I'm assuming you mean Platanus species, and not sycamore maple, which is Acer pseudoplatanus). You just need to be careful not to pile soil on top of any exposed roots, and try not to scrape or scuff any roots when you are planting. This tree does have spreading roots so they may extend out some distance. More information about the tree can be found on the pages of the U.S. Forest Service.

Some of the plants which may work well in your garden are:

Brunnera macrophylla
Galium odoratum
Geranium phaeum
Lamium (but not the invasive Lamium galeobdolon)
Vancouveria hexandra
Vinca minor

Date 2019-05-15
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Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: Tulipa, Narcissus, Iris, Bulbs

This is my first year planting spring flowering bulbs, which grew nicely. I cut the dead flower and the stalk once it died back, and now the foliage is yellow. What am I supposed to do with the yellow foliage? Pull it out? Cut it off? Just leave it alone? Also, will planting some annual petunias now hurt the bulbs I have planted in the garden? How close can I plant the petunia to the bulbs? I was going to try and hide the yellow foliage.


The answer will depend on which bulbs you were growing. For example, daffodil stems should not be cut back until at least 6 weeks after the flowers have faded, and you should never tie the foliage in knots or braid it (this is a common but ill-advised habit). You can leave daffodils in the ground to naturalize and spread.

With tulips, you also need to wait at least 6 weeks from the fading of the flowers before cutting back the leaves.

With hyacinths, you can pull away dead foliage and flower stems as they fade. When the top growth has died down, you can either leave them in the ground or dig up the bulbs, dry them off, and store them for replanting.

If you are growing iris, you can cut the dead flower stems to the base, and cut away dead leaves in the summer. If they are bearded iris, the fan of leaves may be cut back in the fall to about 8 inches above the base.

(Source: The Plant Care Manual by Stefan Buczacki, Crown Publishers, 1993)

You can certainly plant your annual petunias quite close to bulbs like daffodils and tulips and other bulbous plants which are quite vertical. Just don't plant right on top of the bulbs. To disguise dying bulb foliage, use perennial ground cover plants that keep their leaves over the winter, and that have stems soft enough for bulbs to emerge through them. Hardy geraniums (true geraniums, also called cranesbill) and creeping veronica, such as Veronica peduncularis 'Georgia Blue,' are good choices. You can remove dried leaves as needed, and they can be tidied or groomed in early spring.

Date 2019-08-02
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Garden Tip

Keywords: Tulipa, Narcissus, Bulbs

What to do with a flower bulb once the flower is gone? It depends! For daffodils, remove the seed head, but let all the foliage turn yellow before you remove it. Braiding the foliage is not recommended because the toxins in the leaves can cause contact dermatitis. If a clump is getting crowded dig and separate the bulbs once the leaves have started to wither. Thin out the small and damaged bulbs and replant the rest. Or store the bulbs, unwashed, in a dry shaded place until September.

For tulips, it's a bit more complex. Most showy, large-flowered tulips don't rebloom well, so should be treated like an annual- dug up and tossed. However, Darwin Hybrids, 'Apeldoorn' is one example, do rebloom the following year. These should be allowed to yellow and wither naturally and their seed heads removed. They can be divided when the foliage withers. If you don't know what you have, play it safe and leave your tulips for another year. If the show is disappointing then dig them up and toss.

For a fun tour of the world of bulbs try Lois Hole's Favorite Bulbs (Hole's, $1995), a book packed with photos, trivia, growing advice and design tips.

Asters, chrysanthemum, salvias and ornamental grasses are a few perennials that emerge and distract the eye when bulb foliage is yellowing.

Date: 2007-04-03
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