How To Divide Daffodils
Maybe they are not blooming to your standards, or not blooming at all? Maybe they are Narcissus of the mid or late groups and it is too early for them to be blooming? Maybe they are in too much shade or blooming where you cannot appreciate them? Or perhaps the scariest scenario of all, you cut the dying foliage off too soon last year because you couldn’t stand looking at it, or gasp! braided it and now you have no daffs where once they frolicked merrily? Or it might be that you just want to spread them around more because the yellow of the daffodils in springtime is the most welcome sight in all of gardening.
Every gardening book will tell you to wait until late summer to dig and divide your daffodils. That is just counterintuitive here at Fairegarden. They are dormant then, you don’t know where they are located exactly. In addition, you don’t know where all of the other dormant spring blooming bulbs are safely snoozing, where there are gaps in early spring that need filling. Here in southeast Tennessee, that is the time of drought and baked clay, digging is nearly impossible. It has been ten years that I have been dividing the daffs and other bulbs when or just after they are in bloom with zero losses. If you wait until they are past their pristine prime, there is no loss of show in the garden. You can always pick the flowers for a sweet bouquet indoors. So let’s get started.
A cold rainy day is perfect for this task. Bundle up with layers of wicking clothing, boots made for mud and heavy waterproof gloves. I buy the felt lined Atlas Therma Fit heavy duty size small by the case as dry, warm hands allow winter outdoor gardening to be a joy rather than a trial. You need to have scoped out the clumps that are not blooming or that look overgrown and will give many stems to spread. Get your favorite shovel and dig straight down, starting several inches from the clump. Bulbs pull themselves deeper in the soil than planted over the years and if you mulch heavily they can be quite deep. You do not want to chop their heads off, leaving the bulbs in the ground with no nourishment. Dig several places around the clump and push the shovel in all the way to the hilt. Begin to pry and lift slowly, checking to see if the stems are moving all together. Check at the edge to see that you have the shovel head under the roots.
Once the clump is unearthed, grab groups of daffs and shake them vigorously to remove the soil. Lay them aside until you have them all somewhat clean but with some dirt still attached. Replant a few if you want. You should have already been thinking about where you want to replant. Knowing where there are late emerging hardy perennials, such as hostas, or around daylily clumps, tall phlox, Echinaceas, anything that will grow to cover the dying daffodil foliage that is crucial for success is the perfect spot to have some late winter into early spring color while the herbaceous are still waking up from their winter’s nap. I have been spreading the earliest blooming daffs here, Narcissus psuedonarcissus over the years and have made good progress in the highly desireable Sea Of Daffodils across the slopes. Today, we are adding some to the Japanese blood grass, Imperata cylindra rubra that lines the Azalea path. The grasss will grow to hide the spent foliage nicely.
To plant, we use the Japanese hori hori knife. I love this tool. It is thrust straight down in a stabbing motion rather than the hard on the wrist scooping motion. The wet earth is easy to dig at this time of year, rather than the concrete it becomes by fall.
Make the hole a few inches deep and push the bulb down with your fingers until it is at the bottom of the hole. Depth is not important, the roots will pull the bulbs where they need to be, but they should be covered up to the neck completely. The foliage will look sad, lying flat on the ground. Ignore that, it will be fine. Don’t cut the foliage but if there are blooms you can cut them to take inside. I don’t for a couple of reasons. This process makes them muddy, if you are going to cut them, do it before you dig. Also, my cat Hazel eats all plant material, even artificial and all parts of Narcissus are extremely poisonous. Some animals are smart enough to know what is poison, I am afraid she is not one of those intelligent types. She is sweet though.
There has been surveying of the garden this spring and bare spots have been noted for the daffodil spreading. Under deciduous shrubs is a good place to have a stand of yellow before the green leaves unfurl. Imagine the above scene as it will be next year, filled with brilliant golden trumpets rather than a mass of grey and brown. Empty places where something died or was removed for whatever reason can be filled with the bulbs. Good drainage and light is essential to the proper curing of the bulbs. Dry summers and wet winters like we experience are perfect. Are you convinced yet that it is okay to spread them now? Go ahead and do it. Next spring, you will thank me.