It's been a fantastic year for bulbs, many of them are better and more floriferous than they have been for several years, and there is some speculation that the cold winter is the reason: yes, folks, all that snow really did serve a purpose!
However, a lot of people are showing me un-opened daffodil bulbs and asking me if they are “blind”, and what they can do about it.
In case you're not sure what this means, “blindness” in daffodils is where the plants only produce leaves, and fail to make any flowering buds at all - and this is usually due to being mown for tidiness, before the leaves (which are the solar panels of the bulb) have had enough time to make and store energy for the following year. Planting too shallow is also a problem, as is overcrowding, but nine times out of ten, too-early mowing is the reason.
But the things I am seeing are buds which have failed to open - and this is not the same as blindness.
I've put a couple of pictures at the top, to show what they mean - the flowering stem remains straight upright with a brown, papery sheath at the top, instead of folding over then going on to open, as daffs normally do.
This is caused by a frost, which has caught and damaged these buds after they have formed, but before they have opened.
If you cut one of these sheaths open, you will find either a mush of dead stuff, or some sad dried up yellowish bits - these are the “failed” petals.
It's rather annoying that daffodil buds are perfectly immune to frost and snow while they are still very small - we all know that these bulbs are famous for emerging just as it snows! They then sit there, dormant, for a few weeks until the snow has gone, whereupon they continue growing, unharmed. Before the buds are fully formed, they contain the equivalent of anti-freeze, and are not worried by the winter chills.
But once they have started to swell, they are quite delicate, and a “late” frost can nip them all, ruining the flowering. And that's what we had this year - a series of snow episodes, then mild weather, then more nippy frosts.
So what can be done? Nothing, I'm afraid - other than dead-heading the failed buds so that they don't spoil the rest of the display.
Personally, I am giving all “my” daffodils a foliar feed, once the bulk of the flowers are done - I add a splash of seaweed extract to a watering can, and give the leaves a good drenching. I'll probably repeat it maybe two more times over the next few weeks, along with encouraging all the owners not to mow the leaves down until they have started to go yellowish and limp.
This gives the bulbs enough time to store up that energy for next year.
Then all we have to do is keep our fingers crossed that maybe next year, we'll have snow in January, rain in Feb, wind in March and flowers in April - as we are supposed to!