Issue: December 18
Daffodil are very hardy, so do not worry if they start growing early
Q. My daffodils are sprouting. I cut off the water in that flower bed about a month and a half ago, but they are still growing, so now I wonder if I need to start watering them again... I live in Roswell and they are planted in my 'courtyard' which doesn't get as cold as the rest of the landscaping. This has not happened before. I would appreciate any help you can give me.
A. Daffodils, grape hyacinths, tulips, and other spring flowering bulbs may show their leaves early if the weather and soil are warm enough to allow growth to begin. It is somewhat early this year. Even though we have had some cold weather, there has not been enough cold to chill the soil and prevent growth. It has been just cool enough, long enough to overcome the dormancy in the bulb and allow growth. Now that the leaves have formed, you do need to water again periodically. Even gardeners whose spring flowering bulbs have not begun growth need some water during the winter, but your bulbs, with leaves need additional water. During the winter, the bulbs are subject to drying and desiccation injury if there is no moisture in the soil. The leaves needed water to grow and have drawn that water from the bulbs. Water taken from the bulbs needs to be replaced by water from the soil. The leaves will continue drawing water either from the bulbs or soil, so irrigation will protect the bulbs from drying too much.
As long as the soil remains cold, the flowers will not form. The leaves are quite hardy, so you do not need to worry about them freezing. Your courtyard location, a warm microclimate, should provide additional protection, but greater water demand. Once again, watering is important. Water enough to keep the soil moist, but do not keep the soil soggy. The bulbs should be planted quite deeply (4 to 6 inches), so by moistening the soil to at least that depth, the soil should remain moist for two weeks or more. Watering once a month or once every three weeks should be adequate. Organic mulch over the soil should help maintain soil moisture and help keep the soil cool on sunny days. This will also be helpful.
While it is unlikely that the flower scapes will appear too soon, organic mulch should help delay their appearance. Most spring flowering bulb flower buds are also relatively hardy, and can tolerate some cold weather, so you should have no need to worry about them. Watering as described above will help the bulbs produce long flower scapes that lift the flowers well above the soil. It will also cool the soil and help delay flower development, another reason not to worry about the flowers. When I taught at Montana State University, I often saw daffodil flowers below the snow. The snow was a nice blanket to protect the flowers, but the flowers could tolerate some freezing temperatures.
This year you will have a longer time to enjoy the green foliage produced by the bulbs. As long as you provide water, you should have attractive flowers in the late winter or early spring as well. If the weather continues warmer this winter, your flowers may appear earlier than usual. However, if the weather cools significantly, flowering may be at the usual time.
For more gardening information, visit the NMSU Extension publications World Wide Web site at http://aces.nmsu.edu/pubs/_h.
Send your gardening questions to:
Yard and Garden, Attn: Dr. Curtis Smith
NMSU Agricultural Science Center
1036 Miller Rd. SW
Los Lunas, NM 87031
Curtis W. Smith, Ph.D., is an Extension Horticulture Specialist with New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service. NMSU and the U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating.