The first green tips of daffodils will soon break through the mulch, bringing spring a little closer to a gardener's heart.
For some, there will be a moment of alarm that this growth is too much, too soon. That's a natural feeling since weeks of cold weather are likely still ahead. But it's a natural thing for daffodils to do as they make their transition from dormant bulb to bloom.
Don't worry that the foliage will get bitten by cold because these leaves are very hardy. The greater hazard is that they get stepped on and the delicate tissue inside the leaves broken. This reduces their health.
It's tempting, once those first green tips poke through, to heap on more mulch, sort of the way you might put on an extra blanket on a very cold night. That is likely to turn the green leaves yellow, another unhealthy development.
But if you think there is nothing to do for your daffodils but keep your feet off the emerging foliage, you are wrong. The rising tips signal an awakening that means it is time to fertilize the daffodil bed. That surprises people who think a flower bulb deep in the ground cannot possibly need fertilizer now.
But it does because each little bulb is actively growing. Fertilizer now will help the bulbs develop healthy foliage and gather strength to set the buds of next year's flowers. This year's flowers are already safely stored in the bulb, preparing to rise and open between mid-February and early April, depending on the variety.
It doesn't take much, just 3 pounds of 8-8-8 or 10-10-10 garden fertilizer on 100 square feet of bed. Or use a specially formulated bulb fertilizer at the rate directed on the package. When the green tips of tulips and hyacinths emerge a few inches, do the same for them. Fertilizer is especially helpful in getting another season or two out of tulips. They rebloom, but I do not think of them as long-lasting members of a flower bed like daffodils. Waiting for these green tips makes it easy to locate the bulbs and sprinkle the fertilizer right where it is needed. Rainfall will wash it into the ground.
Gardeners enjoy daffodils so much, but over the years I've heard a lot about how much they hate the foliage after the flowers are cut or fade. They try all kinds of methods to conceal the foliage. These include folding and tying with a rubber band, even braiding the long slender leaves.
But you simply have to let them be. Once they naturally turn yellowish-brown, you can safely clear the foliage away by gently raking or pulling. Of course, in the meantime, you are dying to fill that bed with something fresh and blooming.
That's OK, because small, young annuals should not interfere with the ripening foliage. What does interfere with them is a trowel stabbed into the heart of the bulb while you are setting out petunias in May. Take extra care when adding annuals to a bulb bed. I like to use a three-pronged hand cultivator to pull back the soil gently to a shallow depth. This avoids the urge to dig and possibly spear and wreck the daffodil bulb you nurtured so carefully.