How To Divide Daffodils

Are your daffodils looking a little sad?

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.

For other How To posts written by Fairegarden, look for How To on the sidebar page listing or click here.


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39 Responses to How To Divide Daffodils

  1. Carol says:

    Great advice, Frances, and I can imagine your newly planted bed next spring. I, too, have dug up daffs in spring and moved them, without losing them. I’ve also dug up bulbs in the early fall, because I was digging up a whole bed anyway, and that worked as well. Goes to show, there are several ways/times to do stuff in the garden, and no one answer is always right.

    Hi Carol, thanks. I agree, the bulbs can be replanted anytime you come across them while digging around the garden. I like doing it in spring because you can see where everything is, and isn’t! πŸ™‚

  2. Frances, this is exactly why I love garden bloggers – they tell me when the books are wrong. This makes so much more sense to me. I am heading out with a mug of tea to assess and consider my daff division opportunities. Thank you!

    Thanks Janet. I have been doing this long enough now to feel confident in advising others to do the same. Digging in late summer here is awful, too dry, too hot, the ground is too hard and I am too weak to do it! Not to mention not knowing where everything is. Take notes, or better, photos now to help you assess! πŸ™‚

  3. gail says:

    Dear Frances, It’s time to divide mine and no way could I wait till fall; I would be chopping them into pieces trying to find them (if I could dig into the concrete soil). It’s not only clear where the unproductive bulbs are located, but, I can see where more yellow deliciousness is needed! And, more is certainly needed! Thank you for the hori-hori reminder! That will help my wrist. xxoogail

    Dear Gail, thanks for visiting. It is my pleasure to offer information, and if it can be helpful to anyone, that is pure delight! Your climate is similar to mine, so the digging now makes the most perfect sense. Sometimes we might forget what happens to the soil in summer, how hard it becomes and impossible to dig deeply, even with a pickaxe! Take care of your wrist and stab rather than pry. πŸ™‚

  4. commonweeder says:

    Frances – I really appreciate this post because it makes me feel less guilty about having done this myself. In a moment of madness I planted lots of daffs in the lawn and then realized I couldn’t mow that lawn until very late in our season. So I have been digging up the bulbs sometimes early in the spring to the edge of the lawn that needs little mowing because I am turning that section into a thyme lawn. I haven’t managed to get them all moved, but spring is nearly here and I’ll try again.

    Thanks Pat. You shouldn’t feel guilty about digging up the daffs from the lawn. I think the literature is wrong about when is the best time to do it, for the gardener anyway. A thyme lawn sounds divine! πŸ™‚

  5. Sandra Jonas says:

    Frances I have been doing exactly this for 13 years. It is the only way to handle the transplanting of daffs.
    If you haven’t seen them drop into my site for a treat.

    Hi Sandra, good deal. I agree, it is the only time of year for it to be done here. When we hit a stash of bulbs while planting and moving things later, we stick them along an edge somewhere, since we don’t know where anything is, to be moved later, like in spring. I will check out your daffs! πŸ™‚

  6. My Kids Mom says:

    I just picked up daffs, hyacinth and crocus bulbs that had done their thing from my local grocery store for $1 per pot. I went right out and put them in the yard and one of the hyacinths decided it wasn’t done blooming after all. And the others are at least dying at the same pace as my own. I could tell where I had gaps and where to put them. Perfect timing- and perfect price!

    Thanks for your idea of looking for those post bloom bargains!

    Hi Jill, good deal! Literally! I love getting the pots of hyacinths at the grocery and plopping them wherever there is room. Trying to figure out the best spot in fall is impossible. I might need a few more…. πŸ™‚

  7. Sharon says:

    This is wonderful advice! I’m growing two colors of Scilla in one container, and I’ll divide them into two containers when they are blooming and I can tell who is who! Unless the Blue previously overtook the Pink.

    Thanks Sharon. When things are in bloom is a good time, or just as they are fading, to make the best color decisions. As you well know! πŸ™‚

  8. Frances, great advice. There are a few clumps on the hillside of the original daffs that were here when we bought. I will dig them up this spring and spread them around. It will be nice to have weeks there in the spring, instead of just a few days here and there.

    Thanks Deborah. How wonderful that you will get to spend some time there to get stuff done. πŸ™‚

  9. Kathy says:

    I always dig them as the foliage is dying, store them in mesh bags, and replant in the fall. We usually have moist soil in autumn, and I am usually replanting in lawn and not garden beds. But I will keep your method in mind for daffs that I want to plant in garden beds. It makes sense, but there are so many other chores that need to be done in spring, that I like leaving the daffs until fall.

    Hi Kathy, to each his own method! When I tried to save them to plant in fall, before risking going against the current advice of hort experts, the bulbs dried up to nothingness. Now I put them right into the ground, when moving them in spring or if some are stumbled upon later in the year. Our clay soil becomes hard as concrete, literally. Fall bulb planting is a chore. I often will plant a bunch in one hole then, to be dug and spread the next spring when the earth is moist and soft. You are lucky with your soil. πŸ™‚

  10. Dave says:

    I’ll be needing to divide daffs soon in our front garden. I removed a tree form there in the fall and want the daffodils to fill out the gap it left. I’ll wait until after the current ones are blooming though. Putting a stake or a little flag in the ground where the daffs are lets you find them later for dividing.

    Sounds good, Dave. If we put flags where the daffs are, we would be awash in flags. It is easier for me to just do it now. No reason to wait, especialy if the clump is not blooming anyway. πŸ™‚

  11. Nell Jean says:

    I’ve been moving daffodils ‘in the green’ this spring. Many of mine have pulled themselves down into sandy soil too deep to bloom. I replanted with more of their necks showing.

    I’ve waited to dig and dry and save to replant in fall before and then forgot to plant timely. Moving them directly to a new spot assures they’re in the ground where they are to bloom.

    Mama always said Daffodils go to China after the tops die down. No matter how hard you try to find every bulb it seems that a few are going to remain behind and bloom more gloriously the next year.

    Thanks Nell Jean, you taught me something new today! I didn’t realize the bulbs could go so deep that they wouldn’t bloom. That would explain the problems I have along the big wall. Now I will dig those suckers! You Mama was wise, and raised a wise daughter! πŸ™‚

  12. Valerie says:

    Good tips today Frances. I wish I had some of your clay in my sandy backyard. V

    Thanks Valerie. How about we trade a little of each for a little of each to mix them up? πŸ™‚

  13. Barbara H. says:

    Thanks for the planting inspiration, Frances. I’ve got to move some hyacinths in the ground that aren’t doing well and can hardly be seen from the window. I’m very interested in your gloves – are they the Atlas Therma Fit? Atlas makes several varieties and of course they all sound really good on the web site I found.

    Hi Barbara, thanks. Yes, Atlas therma fit. I will add that to the post so people know. I get them on Amazon. They are CASH! πŸ™‚

  14. Molly says:

    I am so glad you posted this! I am going to mess with my “garden” this weekend and was wondering what to do with the lovely daffodils that the previous owner had! You have saved me some research. I imagine that late summer in Arkansas will also be way to hot for me to want to mess with these.

    Hi Molly, thanks and welcome. Go ahead and mess with them now! I am sure it is too hot in Arkansas to do so later, plus you can see exactly where you want them to be. Good luck! πŸ™‚

    • Molly says:

      A little follow-up.
      Turns out that maybe last weekend was already too hot to do it in Arkansas.
      But I did, and now I have more daffodils than sense! I hope they survived my jostling!

      They should be fine, as long as the foliage can die back naturally.

  15. MNGarden says:

    I have some candidates scheduled for a move. I like your new location planting advice for covering old foliage with companions’ new growth.

    Thanks Donna. There are so many that need digging up and spreading here, I won’t be able to get them all done this year, but there is always next year, right? πŸ™‚

  16. Alistair says:

    Terrific detailed advice Frances. I would also never think of lifting them when dormant and like yourself have had no problem with the manner in which you describe. What is braiding? Have you ever heard that if you top dress daffs with cattle or horse manure you will seriously affect the ability of them to flower.

    Hi Alistair, thanks. I am glad to hear you wouldn’t think of lifting them later, it just makes no sense. We wouldn’t even know where they are located, exactly and be likely to chop off their heads. Braiding is what some people recommend you do with the daffodil leaves after the flowering is done to make a neater appearance as the foliage ripens. Not only is it ridiculously time consuming, it prevents the foliage from photosynthesizing as it should to make next year’s blooms. I did not know that about the manure. Thanks for the information! πŸ™‚

  17. ricki says:

    It’s kind of like cooking: you start out following a recipe, then personal taste and experience lead you in new directions. Thanks for giving us permission to “follow our bliss”.

    Hi Ricki, thanks for the kind words. I am the same kind of cook, try anything at least once. πŸ™‚

  18. Janet says:

    Good advice Frances. As I am newly planting all of my bulbs, I think dividing will be a few years down the line. Having made an attempt to dig a hole in our clay, waiting until late spring is a much better time.

    Hi Janet, how fun to be planting the new stuff. If your soil is like ours, good luck with the fall bulb planting. I often dig one big hole and put them all in, then spread them in spring when the digging is easy. πŸ™‚

  19. Eileen says:

    Frances you are right on the mark. I always divide my bulbs in the spring because that’s when I see that they are blooming sparsely.


    Hi Eileen, thanks. It makes sense to me to do it then, or else you would be gardening blind. πŸ™‚

  20. Lola says:

    Love your Daff’s. What is the plant just up from your shovel? Is it Daff’s also. The leaves seem wider. I’ve heard of braiding the tops when they topple over to make them neater looking
    I too was afraid of moving them at this time. So now I know I can move them if I choose.
    We’re due a frost tonight from 2 in the A.M. till about 9 in the morning. I hope all will be ok as I have small peaches on my tree.

    Hi Lola, thanks. The wider strappy leaves are surprise lilies, Lycoris squagimera. They will die back then shoot up later with pink flowers in late July here, hence the other name Nekkid Laides. The braiding is bad, don’t do it. It does not allow the foliage to ripen properly. The best bet is to plant daffs around perennials that are dormant during winter, or smaller, like daylilies. Hope your peaches survive! πŸ™‚

  21. cheryl says:

    I’m envious of such colour and life in your garden Frances. Mine remains under 2′ of snow, arrghhh. Soon, soon I’ll be able to dig the warm earth and tickle life.
    Thank you for the advice and I’ll try it as those Daffies have a mind of their own.

    Hi Cheryl, thanks. Your time is coming, I love the idea of a life tickling! πŸ™‚

  22. Rose says:

    Great advice, Frances, and thank you so much! I have never yet divided my daffodils, partly because I thought I had to do it later in the season. It’s hard to remember in late summer just where those daffodils were blooming, not to mention the worry over disturbing nearby perennials. I will definitely try to get this done later this spring–once my daffs have finally bloomed, that is. Now, I just need to find a hori hori knife!

    Thanks Rose. Remember to not plant the daffs too deeply, they will bloom better. Good luck and don’t overdo it. πŸ™‚

  23. Thanks Very much for this how to.
    I dont have very many dafs at the moment but there is one that I think needs moving, a lone plant which is just on the corner of my front garden and runs the risk of being trodden on everytime there is a car parked on the drive! (there isnt very much space to get past)

    Will definatly try moving it once the flower is over πŸ˜€

    Thanks for visting. It sounds like you will be moving that lone wolf! πŸ™‚

  24. debsgarden says:

    Great post! I recently moved daffs to a new area in my woodland garden. I dug up clumps that were just budding out. I didn’t want to divide them; just put them in a different location. They made the move with hardly a floppy head and bloomed beautifully.

    Thanks Deb, good deal on your successful daff move! πŸ™‚

  25. kate says:

    That’s really interesting — I have tons of daffs (well, I am in Wales and it is the national flower, so it’s almost compulsory), and I have some large clumps that are almost blind. I usually wait until the foliage has started to die back, but I may just give it a whirl right now. Thanks!

    Hi Kate, thanks. Lucky you with tons of daffs. They seem almost compulsory in the US as well, even though they are actually friendly exotics here. We like to have the daff spreading job under our belts well before the heat of summer gets under way. Now is a good time! πŸ™‚

  26. Being a tightwad, I have been dividing the clups of dafs that I inherited when I moved here. I appreciate your words of encouragement, it’s nice to see that the experts are doing the same thing. Thank you. Great post.

    Hi Patsy, thanks for visiting and those kind words. I, too am a tightwad and will divide any plant that allows it! I am no expert, but have plenty of experience. HA πŸ™‚

  27. Sue Langley says:

    Thanks for this, Frances! I have a few groups of daffs that don’t ever seem to bloom and I’ve left them year after year just because I have had no idea how to fix the problem. I will be taking your advice. It’s even rainy and cold!

  28. Sharon says:

    Yesterday I helped my niece divide some of her daffodils! She gave me 6 of them,some Japanese Irises as well as a couple of unknown flowers that resembled the leaves of an onion but is not an onion. I also got plenty of wild onions lol. I could tell the difference in looking at the onions and the bulb/flower that resembled an onion. the onions leaves are more round in shape, the unknown bulb/flower leaves were flat and curled in a circle. The onion bulbs had a grey skin covering a white bulb while the unknown has a brown skin covering the white bulb that is not quite round.

  29. Raji says:

    wonderful advice..i have plenty to divide and more spaces to fill….thanks…i had tough time in fall to find the bulbs….
    Does this apply to tulips too..?my tulip flowers look too small..thanks in advance.

    Hi Raji, I combined your comments for ease of answering, hope you don’t mind. Yes, the tulips may also be divided in the same way, except those should be planted more deeply than the daffodils, although some tulips do have smaller flowers than others. Good luck!

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  31. Heather-Lin Brannon says:

    What a great tutorial! I was especially fascinated by the way daffodils pull themselves deeper into the earth. From experience I know that asparagus was “self adjusting” to their preferred depth, but they have these octopus like arms that make it easy to imagine them undulating underground:) I love how intelligent plants are at cooperating with our gardening efforts!

    Thanks again for such a great article. I have loved and followed your blog for many years now, but this is my first post:) ~Heather-Lin

    Thanks so much, Heather-Lin, for those kind words. I do appreciate your readership! I felt the need to encourage others to divide their daffodils. The best way is to show them how to do so with photos. I am a visual person, need to SEE it.

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  33. Virginia Callicott says:

    I agree completely with your method of dividing. It works. Glad someone has tulips to divide. Our vole problem is so severe we can only plant them in pots…not willing to go to the trouble of putting chicken wire etc around the bulbs in the ground. Any post on vole and therefore mole control in your older blogs? Remember Juicy Fruit gum…or was that before your time? Virginia

    Thanks Virginia. Dividing now really does work with no harm done to the bulbs. While most tulips are not perennial here, the species, viridiflora and white purissima have been stalwarts for more that ten years. I did do an anti vole post about a bed between two rock walls that was totally infiltrated by the varmints. Here it is: It worked, so far.

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  38. Marlene Hofstetter says:

    Thanks for the advice on transplanting daffodils in the spring. I have thousands of daffs in different flower beds throughout this property and don’t want to wait until fall to move them or give them away. Mostly because where are they all hiding? !…… and by then I’m so busy gardening that I don’t have the energy to deal with them. Also many daffs need to be lifted because they are no longer blooming. I live in 3B zone. (northern Maine) Can I deal with snowdrops and grape hyacinths in the same way? How about tulips?

    Hi Marlene, thanks for visiting. I know you can move snowdrops and grape hyacinths now, not so sure about the tulips. They are not that good at returning here except the species, which can be divided and moved now. Good luck!

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