Dear Miss Floribunda,
Last fall I moved into my home in Hyattsville. There wasn’t much happening in the garden then, but this spring it was simply gorgeous with flowering azaleas, and lots and lots of daffodils. Now it looks like … Gehenna … Hades … you name the nether region! The withered flowers on the azaleas are dropping off on their own, but I want to get out and clip off those biliously mottled daffodil leaves flopping everywhere like nasty tentacles. A friend warned me to leave them on or there won’t be any flowers next spring. She insists that I wait till they fall away on their own, which she says takes six to eight weeks, and then I can pick them up and compost them. Looking out of the window in revulsion, I realize I can’t tolerate this hideousness that long. Tell me what I can do now, and in the future.
Living in the Styx on Livingston Street
Dear Living in the Styx,
The bad news is that you do have to wait till you can easily pull the leaves out of the ground manually, and that takes a few weeks. You certainly want your daffodils to return all their energy back into their bulbs so they can bloom for you again next spring. Obviously, you can and should remove the shrivelled flowers and any pods that have already formed, so as to prevent the plants from putting their energy into seed production. What is less obvious is that you must allow those discolored leaves to finish converting sunlight back into the sugars that will fortify the bulbs during dormancy. Some people tie back or even braid the leaves, but that is a lot of work for as many daffodils as you have. In addition, it reduces the light the leaves can receive to produce nutrition for the bulb, which only prolongs the die-back process and harms the plant.
The good news is that you can hide the leaves with other plantings. Just as some us will put on a cap or kerchief on a bad hair day, something similar can be done for plants during a bad foliage month. So just buy some packs of colorful annuals and plant them where they will camouflage the unsightly leaves. That will do for the short term. For the long term, you might consider perennials that would consistently cover the daffodils at the end of their bloom time. In my cousin Asphodel’s shade garden, leaves of her hostas, which were nowhere in sight when the daffodils were in bloom, have popped up and are all one notices. In the sunny area of her garden, her peonies have performed the same service, but they also will die back fairly soon. Cousin Asphodel foresaw that in her planning, so by the time your letter is published, daylilies will have succeeded the peonies. Their leaves will stay green and perky even after the flowers have finished blooming. In addition, there are various groundcovers that would effectively cover your daffodils without preventing them from coming through and reblooming next spring. Probably the easiest and prettiest would be creeping phlox or foam flower.You do want to avoid deep-rooted perennials that might draw away moisture and nutrition from the regenerating bulbs.
And please don’t forget that daffodils are among the loveliest and most reliable of spring flowers. Forgive them for not always looking their best.
To meet other gardeners and ask more questions, please come to the next meeting of the Hyattsville Horticultural society on Saturday, June 16, from 10 a.m. to noon. It will take place at the beautiful home of Jeff and Marsha Moulton, 6122 42nd Avenue.