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Master Gardener answers: to cut or not to cut (your spring bulbs)

Leave the leaves!
John Hethrington with some daffodil's he's "dead-headed."

John Hethrington has been gardening since the age of 9. He started a career in gardening in high school and launched his own gardening service by Grade 12, and grew the business from there. He spent his early life gardening in Toronto and earned his certification as a Master Gardener before moving to Meaford where he cultivates 2.5 acres with 20 different gardens including perennials, roses, a xeriscape garden, a meadow, two bog gardens, several shrub borders and a pond. He publishes monthly garden tips for local newsletters and his column will appear on MidlandToday as well.


April showers, spring flowers, but now what? 

A master gardener explains there's one important task that can help keep your bulbs healthy and thriving. 

To cut or not to cut? That, according to John Hethrington, is the question. 

YES, you should cut the flower head and stem of daffodils and narcissi after the bloom has faded. You ‘deadhead’ the blooms by sliding your thumb and forefinger down the stem and snap it off close to the base. The stems make very good compost. This deadheading process helps the remaining leaves build stronger bulbs for next year’s blooms because the plant does not expend any energy on making seeds. 

NO, you should not cut down or pull out the leaves of daffodils or other spring bulbs. The leaves need to be left for four to six weeks to matures, turn yellow and die, before being removed. I know it looks messy, but the leaves, through photosynthesis, will build up the strength of the bulb so it will bloom again next spring. 

Don’t be an impatient gardener and tie back, or braid, or make French knots from the leaves or bury them out of sight. Each of these actions will impede photosynthesis and decrease future blooming. Only cut off or pull out the foliage once it flops and turns yellow. This indicates that the foliage has completed its work, the bulbs are replenished and ready to bloom next spring. Cut the yellow foliage at the base or pull it up from the ground if it comes out easily.

If you can’t stand the dying foliage, or want to leave it in place after it yellows, interplant daffodils with perennials that come on right after the fade, so they will screen the dying foliage. Try planting speedwells, peonies, amsonia, goat's beard or astilbe in front of or between your bulbs to cover up the dying leaves.