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How to care for frost-damaged daffodils

Frost damaged daffodil leaves

Unsightly frost damaged daffodils leaves

If you’re a daffodil fan, this has been a disappointing spring. Just as the flowers of early-blooming daffodils were opening in April, winter decided to have an epic battle with spring. As a result, we experienced major temperature fluctuations along Colorado’s Front Range.

The daffodils definitely suffered. What is normally a cheery harbinger of spring became a poignant reminder that Colorado weather is simply unpredictable.

Just how cold did it get? Here are the lows of the morning of April 10, 2013:

  • Colorado Springs: 8 degrees F (20 degrees lower than normal)
  • Pueblo: 14 degrees (16 degrees lower than normal)
  • Denver: 6 degrees (record low)
Frost damaged daffodils

Frost-damaged daffodils display brown flowers and bent stalks.

Daffodils can normally tolerate a fair amount of cold. But once the temperature dropped below 25 degrees F, the leaves and flowers froze.

What does the damage look like today? On the leaf tips, several inches have turned white or brown. The flowers are hanging on bent flower stalks, having turned brown, limp, and shriveled. Not pretty.

We all know in a normal year after the flowers fade, it’s important to keep the leaves until they turn yellow naturally. The leaves manufacture food that gets stored in the bulb to support next year’s growth. Letting the leaves yellow naturally is one of the few cases where doing nothing results in a healthy, easy care plant that blooms year after year.

So, how can you make frost damaged daffodils look tidier without damaging the bulbs?

First, cut the flower stalk off as low as you can without cutting into the leaves. There’s no hope of the flowers recovering, so you might as well remove the flower and the stalk.

Cut back leaves of frost damaged daffodils

By removing the frost-damaged flower stalk and leaf tips, daffodils blend into the spring landscape.

Second, cut off the white or brown upper portions of the leaves. About half of the length of the leaves will remain. Removing the brown portion will help the remaining leaves be less of an eyesore. The daffodils will then blend into the spring landscape and allow the May bloomers to take center stage.

Leave the remaining green leaves alone until they yellow naturally. Once they can be pulled from the bulb with a gentle tug, it’s time to remove them.

Even though it’s tempting, don’t cut the foliage to the ground. If you cut off the leaves too early, in future years, the leaves and flowers will be smaller and less vigorous. If you do this year after year, the daffodils will eventually fade away.

On a side note, it’s been interesting to watch many of the later-blooming daffodils escape the cold April weather. In Colorado Springs, they’re currently blooming radiantly, having come through spring unscathed.

Keep this in mind when you’re selecting bulbs this fall. Choose the later-blooming cultivars to increase the chance you’ll enjoy their beautiful blooms next year. Remember, smart plants bloom late in spring. Who knows what next year will bring!


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