Daffodil blindness

The appearance of yellow daffodils traditionally heralds the start of spring. It can be disappointing then when clumps of daffodils that have previously grown and flowered well begin to decline in flowering.

Daffodil blindness

Quick facts

Common name Daffodil
Botanical name Narcissus
Plants affected Daffodils
Main causes Cultural conditions, pests and disease
Timing Spring

What is daffodil blindness?

Newly planted daffodils usually grow and flower well, but in subsequent years flowering may be reduced or fail completely, although leaves are healthy and numerous. Daffodils that come up with foliage but no flowers are referred to as ‘blind’.

This condition may be due to the growing conditions or pests and diseases. It can be remedied in several ways depending on the cause.

Symptoms

The foliage of daffodils emerges each year but no flowers are produced.

Control

To help avoid blindness, try the following;

  • Always prepare the site well before planting, alleviated compaction, poor drainage, and adding moderate dressings of general fertiliser
  • Select good quality bulbs
  • If planting daffodils in turf, ensure you select cultivars suitable for naturalising such as 'Peeping Tom', 'Fortune' or 'February Gold'
  • Flowers should be removed or pinched off (deadheaded) as they fade
  • Avoid tidying up the foliage by tying the leaves into a knot; leave them to die down naturally
  • After flowering, leave a period of at least six weeks before leaves are removed
  • In dry conditions after flowering, water thoroughly until the foliage shows signs of dying down naturally
  • Improve dry soil by mulching around the bulbs in early spring with organic matter. Avoid planting bulbs in very dry areas under turf or near trees. A site that is initially suitable may become less so over several years due to encroaching trees and shrubs, making it more dry and shady
  • Where flowering rapidly declines try feeding the bulbs. As the growing points emerge in the spring apply Growmore at a rate of 70g per sq m (2oz per sq yd) sprinkled evenly on the soil surface around the bulbs. After flowering, especially for container-grown bulbs, apply a high potassium liquid feed, such as tomato food at one to two week intervals from when the blooms have faded until the first signs of yellowing of foliage
  • If overcrowded groups of daffodils are not flowering, lift them when the foliage dies back in the summer. Improve the soil with organic matter and a little general purpose fertiliser e.g. Growmore at a rate of 70g per sq m (2oz per sq yd), and then re-plant the bulbs so there is a 5-7.5cm (2-3in) gap between each one. Replant small bulbs in more fertile soil (e.g. a vegetable plot) to encourage bulb build-up
  • Where narcissus bulb fly is suspected, bulbs can be lifted and examined for signs of attack and the presence of larvae. There is no treatment and affected bulbs should be destroyed. As the leaves die down, firming the soil around the stems and leaves, raking to fill in any holes and covering plantings with an insect proof netting, from mid-May until early July, may help discourage the female flies from laying eggs
  • Diseased bulbs should be discarded

Cause

A number of causes can be to blame for daffodil blindness;

  • Dry situation: In a dry place, or in drought conditions, daffodils may die down prematurely. After flowering, growth should normally continue for several weeks during which period food reserves in the bulb are replenished before the following season's flower buds are formed. If growth stops prematurely the bulb may, due to lack of food reserves, fail to form a flower bud
  • Defoliation: Leaves removed soon after flowering by mowing or when tidying up the garden can lead to blindness. As with dryness it prevents the bulb building up food reserves for the future
  • Knotting: Gardeners often tidy up clumps of daffodils after flowering by drawing the leaves together into a knot. This is not recommended as it reduces their ability to function and may cause or increase the risk of blindness
  • Seeding: Allowing seed capsules to form after flowering means that energy is diverted from the process of bulb rebuilding
  • Nutrition: Good quality and newly purchased bulbs will normally flower well in their first year on any kind of soil, but in poorer light soils performance may rapidly decline without some additional nutrition
  • Planting depth: Shallow planting encourages bulbs to divide, producing lots of bulbs too small to flower
  • Planting time: Bulb performance can rapidly decline if bulbs are planted later than mid-September
  • Overcrowding: After a few years clumps of daffodils may become overcrowded leading to poor flowering
  • Pests: Narcissus bulb fly and narcissus eelworm may damage bulbs leading to poor flowering
  • Diseases: Diseases such as narcissus basal rot or daffodil viruses may cause bulbs to die or decline in vigour and flowering

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