Why didn’t my daffodils bloom? It’s probably ‘daffodil blindness’

Your gardening questions answered: Mowing them too soon after the flowers have faded can weaken the bulbs

This year our daffodils only had one or two blooms. In other years it was a blaze of yellow. This has never happened before. What is going on? – AC, Co Galway

Known as “daffodil blindness”, there are several possible reasons why your beautiful blaze of yellow was a shadow of its former self this spring. The first, and the most likely, is that the leaves of the plants were strimmed or mown away last year too soon after the flowers had faded, which would have weakened the bulbs underground and thus affected their ability to bloom well this year. Most bulbous plants slowly draw down the nutrients from their leaves after flowering to fatten up their bulbs and store plenty of food reserves in them. But if their foliage is removed before it’s been allowed to naturally fade away and die off (a process that takes several months), then this isn’t possible.

Another possibility, one that can happen in lighter, naturally free-draining soils, is that last year’s spring drought adversely affected the development of the nascent flowers within the bulbs. Again, this happens when the leaves die off prematurely due to a lack of water and before the bulbs have had a chance to draw down the nutrients and fatten up in readiness for flowering the following year. If you think this might be the problem, then you’ll need to add plenty of organic matter as a generous mulch to the ground next month after the plants have died back. Some generous sprinkles of a slow-release pelleted organic fertiliser also wouldn’t go amiss.

Conversely, daffodils also dislike very wet soil which can result in a poor display of flowers. Given the record rainfall we’ve experienced since last summer, is it possible that the ground in which yours are growing became badly waterlogged over last winter? If so, then you’ll need to look at ways to improve drainage.


Another possibility is that your daffodils bulbs have slowly but surely become overcrowded, and need to be lifted, thinned out and then replanted. But given the sudden and very extreme difference from last year’s display, this seems unlikely.

Finally, there is a small possibility that some kind of pest or disease has struck your daffodil bulbs. Examples include narcissus bulb fly, narcissus eelworm, and narcissus basal rot. To see if this may be the case, I’d suggest digging up a few sample bulbs and carefully examining them.

Signs of narcissus bulb fly include white maggots which can be found feeding inside the bulb, signs of eelworm include deformed, swollen bulbs and stunted growth while symptoms of narcissus basal rot include poor growth and soft bulbs. But, given the healthy foliage that your plants have produced, I think that these are all unlikely to be the cause.

Fionnuala Fallon

Fionnuala Fallon

Fionnuala Fallon is an Irish Times contributor specialising in gardening