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Digging Deeper: Why Are My Daffodils Popping Up Early?

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Digging Deeper: Why Are My Daffodils Popping Up Early?

February 15, 2024

Spring is just around the corner (if you believe a certain underground rodent)—but that doesn’t mean winter is kaput. Your garden may be warming up, then suddenly get covered under several inches of snow.

Some plants may have already started to sprout, with daffodil “noses” (the tips of the leaves) pushing up through the leaf litter earlier than most. Daffodils are early spring bulbs, so this can be expected. But what is too early for early spring? Is your garden waking up “on time” or unfavorably early? With half the country shifting into a warmer zone after an update to the USDA plant hardiness map, should you be concerned about this?

Read on.

Why would daffodils poke up early in January or February?

Above: In a normal winter, most daffodils will bloom in March (which is why they are the birth flower for that month). Photograph by Kendra Wilson, from The Road Not Taken: Robert Frost’s Daffodils in Gloucestershire.
  • Warm weather: Daffodils are triggered to wake up by the length of day (sunlight) and the soil temperature. If the weather is unusually warm in the winter, it may cause your daffodils to start sprouting early. (Daffodils normally start blooming in March.)
  • Planting depth: Daffodils should be planted at a depth of two to three times the height of the bulb. If you planted your daffodils at shallower depths, this may be the cause, since the soil warms faster closer to the surface. This makes the flowers think it’s later in the year than it is. 
  • Mulch: Mulch moderates the soil temperature. No or not enough mulch can allow the soil to warm up too soon, which leads to early blooming.

Will the premature blooming harm the daffodils?

Early bloomers in February. Photograph by Abraxas3d via Flickr.
Above: Early bloomers in February. Photograph by Abraxas3d via Flickr.

Probably not. Daffodils are very hardy and tend not to be bothered by cold or snow. In most cases, daffodil noses that pop up early won’t be harmed. The flowers are still safe below ground. However, if you do have a cold snap, the leaves may get frost damage. If it snows after the flowers have bloomed, so long as it doesn’t get too cold for too long, the flowers will be fine. If you’re concerned, you can add mulch around the plant, or cover the flowers with a makeshift tent, such as a cardboard box. 

How do you prevent early blooms in the future?

Narcissus &#8\2\16;Pheasant&#8\2\17;s Eye&#8\2\17; blooms about a month later than more common varieties. Photograph by Britt Willoughby Dyer, from Gardening \10\1: Pheasant Eye Narcissus.
Above: Narcissus ‘Pheasant’s Eye’ blooms about a month later than more common varieties. Photograph by Britt Willoughby Dyer, from Gardening 101: Pheasant Eye Narcissus.

If you are concerned and want to try and slow things down for next year, you can do a few things:

  • Plant them deeper: Most bulbs come with a depth range, plant them at the deep end of the range. 
  • Choose a later-blooming variety: There are some varieties of daffodils that bloom later in the spring.
  • Add more mulch: Mulch helps keep the soil temperature stable and allows the plant not to be exposed to temp swings.

See also:

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