Growing daffodils in pots
April 14, 2014 1:05 AM   Subscribe

Someone bought me a small container of daffodils. Now that they are almost done flowering, what do I need to do to ensure that they survive to bloom again next year?

Here is a picture of the tiny pot they came in. There are four bulbs crowded in there, with roots coming out the top and bottom of the container. The internet agrees that I should deadhead the flowers and let the leaves continue to make food for the plant until they die back (in the fall?). The internet does NOT agree, however, on whether they should be repotted, when, if I should fertilize them, stick them in the fridge, etc.

Pertinent information:

- I do NOT have access to a garden, yard, or any type of open ground to transplant them to. They'll have to be potted forever, but I can get a pretty big pot if that's what they need.
- I live in Southern Europe, zone 9, with very hot, dry summers and mild winters with a month or so of hard freezes.
- My windows/balconies all face due west, and get direct sun from 2pm - 9 pm.
- My thumb is pretty green.

Gardeners of metafilters, how do I keep my daffodils happy so they will bloom again next year?
posted by lollymccatburglar to Home & Garden (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
This doesn't really answer your question, or maybe it does:
where I live*, we usually either throw such bulbs away after they are done flowering, or if we are thrifty and have gardens, we plant them there (which you have no option to do). But most people throw them out.
I have never heard of anyone trying (or succeeding) to keep daffodil bulbs alive in such a tiny pot. In fact I have never heard of anyone repotting them either. Doesn't mean it can't be done.

Since you do not have a garden, I think they will probably be okay if you just do what I do, except in a large pot: take the tiny pot off (cut it open if you have to) and bury the bulbs and roots in soil, leaving the leaves to stick out. Keep the soil from drying out too much. If it freezes hard, put the pot inside in a cool place.

You will most likely see your daffodils bloom again in spring.

*and I bet that's where your daffodils are from, too
posted by Too-Ticky at 2:36 AM on April 14, 2014

This seems like fairly good and general advice for growing bulbs in pots and it corresponds to my experience.

The takehome message:

"The steps involved in forcing are simple.

The proper forcing cultivars (cultivated varieties) must be selected for the desired flowering periods. This is necessary since all cultivars are not suitable for all flowering periods. Table 1 lists some cultivars which are best suited for forcing for the various months.
The bulbs must be planted, rooted, and given a cold-moist treatment for a minimum of 13 weeks with temperatures ranging from 35 to 48 oF.
After being rooted and cooled, they should be placed in a well lighted 60 to 63 oF area in the home. On the average, the bulbs will take about 3 to 4 weeks to flower."

posted by sciencegeek at 3:28 AM on April 14, 2014

The leaves will slowly turn yellow from the tips after flowering. I'm told that this is the "goodness" being sucked back into the bulb. I've no idea if this is the case or not, but the die back will only last for a couple of weeks, max.

Until they actually die back, keep watering the bulbs. Do NOT tie the leaves up in a bundle. Feed the bulbs a tomato fertiliser, as directed on the bottle. This will help ensure that they flower again next year. When the leaves have died back fully and gone brown and crispy, stop watering and put the pt in a cool, dry place. Maybe under the stairs, or in a basement, if you have one.

Don't give them too much water during this time, but don't let them get completely dried out either. Think about what it would be like for them in the ground - they'll get rained on occasionally during the summer, and a bit of moisture wont' hurt them. A lot will likely cause them to rot off, especially if they're standing in it.

When you want them to flower again depends on how you treat them next. The treatment called 'forcing' basically fools the bulbs into thinking that Winter Has Come and that it's time to flower now. If you just want flowers in the Spring, but the bulbs outside somewhere sheltered in the Autumn, maybe in a nice big pot so they don't get too frosted.
posted by Solomon at 3:47 AM on April 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Anything bulby - from daffodils to onions - will survive complete loss of roots while dormant, as long as the bulbs themselves are in good condition and you keep the outsides free of rot.

So if you deadhead the flowers, then let the leaves die back fully of their own accord, and you don't over-water them, the bulbs should end up even bigger and plumper than they are in your photo; and once they get to looking like little brown onions you can do damn near anything with them short of playing football or boiling, and they will still throw out new roots into whatever you plant them in when the time comes to do that.

So once they're completely dormant, take them out of their tiny pot, then and stick them away in a dry dark cupboard. Check them every so often, and when it looks like they're interested in turning into plants again - they'll stick out little green shoot tips, just like old onions do - plant each one into its own little pot, or plant a few into a pot that's a bit bigger than the one you have now. Make sure the soil underneath them is nice and loose and open, to make the roots' job easier.

See how you've got several stalks growing out of each bulb? Daffodils work like garlic in this regard. Break a dormant daffodil bulb into "cloves," plant each one separately, and in one or two seasons each of those will have turned into its own multiple-stalked bulb.

Bulbs are tough as hell, and it's actually quite hard to screw them up fatally. Even this guy, who clearly has no idea what he's doing because he's messing with them way before they're ready, doesn't manage to kill his.
posted by flabdablet at 4:17 AM on April 14, 2014 [3 favorites]

Just came in to say the same thing as flabdablet, which I've done successfully with daffodils and irises for several years now.

Another good part about digging up the bulbs when "dead"/dried is that sometimes, or even often when happy, they'll have made brand-new baby bulbs! It's good to divide them. That way when they're replanted, the new bulbs will have a chance to thrive.

I always plant my early-spring-blooming, summer-dormant bulbs in September-October. Water regularly. Shoots will start around December, and flowers come in February-March.
posted by fraula at 4:23 AM on April 14, 2014

My experience is limited to forcing bulbs and then planting them in the ground, but daffodils require at least a 12-week period of cold (not freezing) in order to rebloom. It would be wiser to leave them (newly potted up) in the refrigerator at a steady temperature rather than out on the balcony.

The good news is that even if these specific bulbs don't survive and rebloom for you, it is inexpensive and easy to force new bulbs. I'd recommend a much larger pot, though.
posted by caryatid at 9:58 AM on April 14, 2014

Thank you everyone! Fantastic answers, exactly what I was looking for.
posted by lollymccatburglar at 11:02 AM on April 16, 2014

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