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Friday, 7 April 2017

Dead head daffodils in your garden (and other spring bulbs)

Daffodil Close Up Narcissus
We're used to snipping off spent flower heads in summer and autumn. It's usually because they look dreadful, all brown and crispy or wilted, detracting from the bright colourful blooms filling the rest of the garden. But do you do the same to the spent flowers of daffodils, tulips and alliums? Well if you don't, you should.


Though many plants continue to look attractive long after they've finished flowering, a wide range of plants look pretty dreadful once they've gone over. There may be more flowers following on, but the ones that have peaked usually look pretty sorry for themselves, wilting or drying up and turning brown - not a good look surrounded by a mass of much more colourful foliage and flowers.
 
Green Fingers Tip
GREEN FINGERS TIP
GREEN FINGERS TIP: Alliums can look good for months after they finish flowering. Leave them and they'll remain architectural and attractive, and birds like the seeds. But it'll weaken the plants and they'll need replacing sooner and grow less well than if you remove the seed heads early - your choice. You could try leaving some, not all, so you get the best of both! If you can remember which you cut and which you left, then you can leave different ones the following year to extend their life. 
 
Cutting them  off might improve their appearance, but also has the side effect of encouraging more flowers to be produced. This is because the plants' overriding ambition is to flower, set seed and reproduce itself. If you can prevent it reaching the seed production stage, by removing the flowers before seeds are made, the plant tries to create more flowers and will keep doing so as long as conditions remain amenable to it.
 
Faded Daffodil flower with seed capsule starting to swell
Faded Daffodil flower with seed capsule starting to swell
There is a tendency to overlook the fact that bulbs are trying to do the same. However, they only really have one shot at it. They tend to produce just one flush of flowers per bulb, and dead heading won't produce any more. This is true of daffodils, tulips, crocuses, alliums and others. So you might think it's not worth dead heading them, but it is. Bulbs are still trying to produce seeds, and if you leave them you'll start to see them swelling at the head of the stem, as the seed capsule fattens.
 
Bulbs react differently from other plants if you dead head them however. They have evolved a Plan B! Rather than produce more flowers to have a second, third or even fourth attempt at pollination and seed production, they redirect their resources downwards, back beneath the ground. They are already planning ahead to next year and investing their energy into the bulb. They grow a good healthy bulb full of stored energy, so they can have another attempt at reproduction next time around.
 
So feed the bulb not the seeds, by dead heading your spring and summer bulbs. It won't produce more flowers this year bit it will help them produce a better show of flowers in a year's time.
 
GREEN FINGERS TIP
GREEN FINGERS TIP: Just pinch or snip off the spent flowers, leaving the foliage to die back naturally. Keep watering them regularly so the plants carry on feeding the bulb for as long as possible. 
 
 
 
 
Tulips are just starting to open so it will be a few weeks before they need dead heading, but most daffs are going over now, so are ready for you to dead head them and let them die back slowly, feeding the bulb as they do so. If they can plan ahead to 2018, then you can too!  

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