Moving and Dividing Daffodils
by Christian Curless, Colorblends Horticulturist
It’s almost digging time. The ideal time to dig daffodils—both for the bulbs and the gardener—is late spring or early summer, when the leaves have collapsed and have turned mostly, but not completely, brown.
Daffodils can be moved and divided (i.e., lifted and replanted, the excess bulbs relocated or given away). The ideal time is when the foliage is mostly but not completely brown. For most daffodils, this time comes in late spring or early summer. By then the bulbs have stored up the energy they need to grow and bloom again next spring, but the leaves are still there to tell you where the bulbs are. And if the leaves are still attached to the bulbs, they help you track down the bulbs as you dig.
What if you can’t or don’t want to wait until the ideal time? Daffodils can be lifted any time after bloom. Truth be told, they can probably be moved while they are in bloom. Dig with care to ensure that the foliage is not cut or pulled away from the bulbs. Replant immediately and water thoroughly. Daffodils moved while “in the green” may not be happy about the disruption. They will likely flop and turn brown prematurely. But chances are very good that they will survive the experience; many will bloom the following spring.
Note: The following instructions assume that you have waited until the foliage is brown or nearly brown before lifting daffodils.
After digging comes drying. If you intend to store the bulbs over summer, you need to dry them first. Lay them out on sheets of newspaper in a sheltered location for 7-10 days. Then gently brush away dried soil, cut off remaining foliage and place the bulbs in mesh bags.
Lifting the Bulbs
Digging, like planting, requires effort and some determination. Obvious as it may seem, you want to start digging on one side of the planting and work your way to the other. Your tool of choice will depend on your soil type—shovel, pick or dynamite, as the case may be. If you are serious about extricating every bulb, the job is best done while kneeling. One of those miniature shovels found at garden centers and home and hardware stores comes in handy for close work. Place the bulbs in a bucket or basket as you lift them. Leave any foliage that does not come free during digging attached to the bulbs.
It is inevitable that you will slice at least one bulb while digging. A bulb can survive a small nick. If you cut a bulb in half, it’s not worth the trouble to save it. Put it on the compost pile.
Immediate Replanting vs. Summer Storage
Once you have exhumed the bulbs, you have two choices: replant them immediately or store them for replanting in the fall. If you decide to replant right away, and foliage is still attached to some of the bulbs, leave it in place. Plant the bulbs the usual 4-6” deep. Then water thoroughly. One soaking is enough.
If you prefer instead to store the bulbs over summer and replant them in the fall, begin by drying the bulbs. Lay them—out of the weather—on sheets of newspaper for a week or so. Leave any attached foliage intact. When the leaves have turned brown and crispy, cut them away and gently brush chunks of soil from the bulbs with your fingers. (There is no need to be fastidious in your cleaning; do not wash the bulbs.) Store the bulbs in mesh bags (old Colorblends bags are perfect for this) in a dry, well-ventilated place. If you have an unfinished basement, you can suspend the bags from floor joists; a fan is a good way to keep the air moving. If you don’t have a basement, a garage can serve, as long as it doesn’t get too hot inside. Also suitable: a carport or other outdoor covered space. Daffodils in storage appreciate fresh air.
Important: Be sure to (1) label the bags with the variety name or a color description (you will not remember what’s in the bag three, four or five months later) and (2) mark your calendar or add a reminder on your phone to replant the bulbs in the fall. The bulbs must be planted again in the fall. They cannot wait until the following year.
Summer storage. Bulbs should be stored over the summer in a reasonably cool and dry location, such as a basement or carport. Air circulation—natural or mechanical—helps keep fungus at bay. The bulbs MUST be replanted in fall. Mark your calendar!
Replanting Stored Bulbs
When fall comes back around, plant the bulbs as though you had just purchased them, 4-6” deep—deeper for large bulbs, not-so-deep for small ones. You will likely find that some bulbs have not survived storage. If a bulb is soft, it is dead. Don’t waste your time planting it. And if you don’t have the space or the energy to replant all of the bulbs? That’s easy: Share the wealth with a friend.
See the complete listing of daffodils and other spring-flowering bulbs at colorblends.com