Creek County Master Gardener: Yellow Blooms

Creek County Master Gardener
Kathy Berryhill

Displays of daffodils and forsythia are a welcome break from the drab winter shades of brown.  What a sight for sore eyes as their bright yellow blooms pop out everywhere!  How nice that these two plants are some of the easiest to grow.  A little bit of maintenance and care will produce years of rewarding color.

Daffodils (Narcissus) come in a multiple of varieties.  While the daffodils that have the larger trumpet shaped center are known as Narcissus, most varieties are referred to as daffodils.    Daffodils thrive in climates like ours that see a good winter chill with gradual, warming temperatures in early spring. They are well known, popular, easy to grow, spring flowering perennial.

As one of the first flowers to herald the coming of spring, daffodils can often spur a gardener into action!  As the bulb responds to the warming soil, an emergence of long, thin leaves is seen.  Within a few weeks, a yellow bloom with a trumpet shaped cup appears on a single stem. Depending on the variety, most daffodils have large, yellow blooms.  Some new cultivars have colors such as white, orange, pink and bicolor are a fun addition to the daffodil stand.

Daffodil bulbs need to be planted in autumn, in a sunny location, “tips up” and 4” deep. These bulbs don’t need fertilizing when planted.  They will reach peak bloom the following spring, about a month before the average last frost date.  While a period of consistent, low temperatures can wilt their bloom, they can usually withstand a short period of freezing temperatures.  The only drawback to the daffodil is that they are toxic to both humans and animals.  If you have pets, consider planting the bulbs in an area that is not accessible.

Often, a stand of daffodil bulbs will only produce leaves, without blooms.  This may be due to the bulb not being able to store enough food from the previous year.  Leaves and stems store nutrients and have to be allowed to die back to feed the bulb.  (Mowing, cutting or braiding the dying leaves can interrupt this process).  Allowing the leaves to turn yellow will take 4-6 weeks.   Consider adding an all-purpose fertilizer to the soil in spring for additional nutrients.  

Divide daffodils when the foliage has turned yellow.  Clumps that don’t bloom should be marked as it is hard to tell which clumps need to be divided when the foliage dies.  To divide bulbs, dig them up and gently pull apart to separate.  Replant the divided bulbs, cover with soil and water well. Forsythia is known for its arching branches cloaked with yellow blooms each spring.  The rest of the growing season isn’t as impressive, showing a green, problem free foliage. Once established in well-drained soil, this bush is mostly trouble free. 

The Forsythia blossoms usually appear along with the daffodils.   Blooms appear each spring on old wood, so only prune right after the flowers have fallen.  Cut 1/3 of the oldest canes to the ground, focusing on improving air flow to the shrub.  Branches can be left in their natural arching form, but if they touch the ground, they may root and grow a new plant. Look for new, improved varieties such as Lynwood Gold, Arnold’s Dwarf or Gold Tide.  Characteristics such as larger blooms, differing heights and a more compact display could be a great addition to your landscape.  Plant forsythias in late fall or early spring in a spot that gets direct sunlight.  Water at the base of the plant regularly until established.