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April 24th, 2012

Daffodils Unbraided

After her daffodils were done blooming, my neighbor spent hours braiding their leaves into tidy bundles. I don’t have time for that. Am I hurting the bulbs by not braiding the leaves?

blog-dougJust the opposite. This is another example of the benefit of standing aside and letting nature do its job.

Think of leaves as solar collectors. Every bit of sunlight that falls on the leaves is transformed through the process of photosynthesis into carbohydrate reserves that are stored in the bulbs. The more photosynthesis, the more energy the bulbs stockpile, which results in a bigger floral display next year.

Anything that reduces the amount of sunlight reaching the bulb foliage will decrease next year’s flowering. This is true of all spring-flowering bulbs, not just daffodils. Your neighbor’s braiding technique, as well as the practice of bundling bulb foliage with rubber bands, won’t prevent the bulbs from returning but it certainly reduces the number and size of next year’s flowers. Even intermingling the bulbs with perennials, such as hostas and daylilies, so the bulb foliage disappears among the emerging perennials, will slightly reduce the bulbs’ future performance.

Allow the leaves to mature fully, until they’ve lost their green color, before clipping them off. Admittedly, tattered daffodil foliage that lingers into June is less than glamorous. In my garden, I operate under the theory that if there are dazzling flowers in another part of the garden in late spring—I recommend peonies, roses, bearded irises, clematis, and poppies—no one will notice the fading bulb foliage.  —Doug Hall

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September 7th, 2011

Peonies That Don’t Bloom

I inherited several peony clumps from my grandmother, who had an amazing garden. In my yard they refuse to bloom. What am I doing wrong?

blog-dougPeonies that thrive and flower in cemeteries and abandoned farmsteads, without any special care, attest to the sturdiness of this tough perennial. They’ll bloom in any good garden soil—so long as they get enough sun. The American Peony Society recommends planting peonies where they receive 8 to 10 hours of sunlight daily. In a shaded location, peonies produce leaves but no flowers.

A mistake that some gardeners make is to cut back peony foliage too early in the growing season. The purpose of leaves is to photosynthesize: to capture solar energy and transform it to a storable form to be used later by the plant. In peonies, the carbohydrates produced via photosynthesis are stored in the tuberous roots, then used the following spring to produce flowers. If the foliage is removed in spring or summer, photosynthesis comes to a halt and subsequent flowering suffers. Instead, wait until frost has browned the foliage in fall to cut it back.

If your peonies need more sun, move them in late summer or early fall. Divide the clumps at the same time, if you wish. Replant shallowly, with the pink growth buds or “eyes” no more than one inch below the soil surface. Deep planting is another reason some peonies fail to bloom.  —Doug Hall

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