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Deadhead finished daffodils to conserve resources.

The need to deadhead so early in spring is one of the few minor consequences of spring bulbs. Long before it becomes necessary to deadhead zinnia, canna and rose, the first flowers to bloom as winter ends are already finished. Many are those of spring bulbs. Their lingering deteriorating bloom can be slightly unappealing. What is more of a concern, is that some will likely try to go to seed.

The process of producing unwanted seed consumes resources that could otherwise sustain more useful growth. However, for spring bulbs that have finished blooming, production of seed for a new generation is more important than their own survival. That is why it is helpful to deadhead bulbs and many other plants after bloom. If deprived of seed production, they divert resources elsewhere.

Deadheaded narcissus, daffodil, freesia, lily and tulip store more resources into new bulbs, which they generate to bloom next year. Snowdrop and grape hyacinth cultivars that get deadheaded are not likely to get overwhelmed by their own feral seedlings. (It is neither practical nor necessary to deadhead crocus or big naturalized colonies of snowflake, feral snowdrop or feral grape hyacinth.)

While it is important to deadhead most spring bulbs after bloom, it is also important to not remove deteriorating foliage prematurely. After all, the foliage produces the resources that are necessary to generate healthy new bulbs for next year. Such foliage starts to slowly deteriorate immediately after bloom, but may linger for many months. Bulbs will shed their foliage when they no longer need it.

Until then, bedding plants or low perennials can obscure deteriorating bulb foliage as it falls over. Trailing gazania and dwarf periwinkle work nicely for shorter bulbs. If they get shorn low for winter, trailing plumbago, common periwinkle and African daisy can work nicely for taller bulbs.

14 thoughts on “Deadhead To Eliminate Fading Bloom

    1. My snowflake multiplied, and I sort of suspect that it was because I did not deadhead it. New colonies appeared a bit farther away than could be explained by multiplication of bulbs within the original colony. If they were in a more refined landscape, I would deadhead them just to keep them tidy. I would be tempted to just knock the old stems down and let them go to seed, but I really do not know how much seed they produce. Seed production does not seem to bother the original colonies much.

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  1. Well that would explain why the daffodils and jonquils and perhaps iris are completely out of control at the rock house property (just across the way – the house we inherited after Forrest’s mother passed). No one has tended to the vast flower beds for more than forty years since his grandmother passed away. Most of the plants don’t bloom anymore, and the plants have encroached into every part of the lawn now.

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    1. Some perennials bloom better if divided occasionally, and bloom less as they get overgrown and crowded. Daffodil take a long time to get that crowded, but can eventually overwhelm themselves. Ironically, those that are too healthy and prolific are less compelled to bloom. If they sense that they have already dominated their range, they are content with vegetative growth.

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  2. Hello Tony,
    This is an interesting topic, and one I’ve spent years thinking about- i.e. daffodils and whether to dead head them, plus which of the tens of thousands are really reliable long term – i.e. over 15 or so years – Very few of the many named cultivars we grow ever attact pollinators, and if you open up the seed pods of the vast majority, you’ll find nothing viable in them – either they’re actually sterile, or just aren’t attractive to insects, so no pollination occurs.
    ‘cos I’m such an insect fan – they add so much to our garden spaces I reckon, I’ve spent years favouring any cultivars of anything which does actually appeal to them – Recent work by our nearby National Botanic Garden of Wales has shown for example that of the over 5000 plant species growing there, only a tiny fraction ( we’re talking low double figures) ever get visited by honeybees. Daff.s generally are really poor, but whad’y’know? The best forms here for seed set are the 2 native species – Tenby (N. obvallaris) and Lenten lily (N .pseudonarcissus). These are the ones which can carpet and naturalise easily without the fag of lifting and dividing. But I do wonder apart from the crowding out/competition for resources issue as clumps grow, whether also the fact that the new year’s bulbs are produed a little higher in the soil, and eventually they just don’t get the right conditions for flower bulb initiation. Because I don’t lift daffs in the green as often as I do with snowdrops, I can’t be certain about this – definitely with snowdrops, the new bulbs are higher, and invariably after replanting end up deeper in the soil, and then after a year of sulking then perform much better for many years – I have seen the same thing with a really good ( here) daff like “Brunswick” – you can get 15 plus years of good flowering before they tail off.
    trouble is, the nurseries, quite understandably, don’t have this sort of long term performance info available on their bulb range – just pretty(or not) pics of the flowers:),
    Best wishes
    Julian

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    1. Even as someone who is none too keen on insects, I still prefer cultivars or varieties that are closer to the natural straight species than some of the weirdly overbred sorts. In fact, for many trees, I prefer the straight species if available. They are just healthier for the ecosystems in which they live, even if such ecosystems are synthetic (with exotic species). It amazes me that while ‘sustainability’ has become such a buzz word, the ecologically inert plants are as popular as they are. Well, that is another rant for another time. In regard to naturalization of daffodil bulbs, it is actually quite natural for them to bloom less as they mature and become overgrown. Many perennials do that. While their colonies are well established, they concentrate more on vegetative (foliar) growth. There is not much incentive to bloom and produce seed. Because it takes them a while to get crowded, they perform for, as you noted, about fifteen years. digging and replanting them disrupts that cycle to get them to bloom again, until their colonies again get crowded. So, it is still necessary to do unnatural things to them to get them to bloom as we think they should in the wild.

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      1. Now Tony thanks for that and I clearly have more work to do on the insect front as far as you’re concerned! But I agree that as you say , so many ecologically inert plants are still used – though perhaps the tide is gradually turning on this – at least over here, though again misinformation is common place, and it’s more about making a buck…
        best wishes
        Julian

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      2. More work? You are more aware of it than most are! That is very important. It really is all about making a buck, and so many want to capitalize on these fads, even while being contrary to the very fads they exploit. If people want to grow flowers for insects, they should at least do it properly, even if that means growing simpler types of flowers that those exploiting the fads do not profit from so much.

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