Dividing Daffodils

Learn when and how to divide daffodils

As a general rule, daffodils need very little care and maintenance after planting. They are poisonous, so deer, rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks and voles will leave them alone as well. Daffodils can be planted nearly anywhere, as long as they get mostly sun in the spring until after their foliage begins to die off. Daffodils can be planted under most deciduous trees because once that tree begins to leaf out in the spring, the daffodils have already bloomed and begun to die back, so they don't require full sun at that point. If you are not sure how to plant daffodils, check out my fall bulb planting guide here.

So if daffodils are so carefree and wonderful, why have mine stopped blooming? If you always allow your foliage to die back naturally every spring and the clumps of foliage are large and green when they emerge in the spring, you likely need to divide your daffodils because they have become too crowded. Depending on the variety you have, you may need to divide every 5-10 years.

You will find some people on the Internet that say you must divide daffodils a certain way, and that's it, but it's simply not true. Daffodils are super hardy and forgiving and can handle a lot of punishment. Following are some techniques that I have used in the past to successfully divide daffodils.

Divide in Late Summer or Autumn

Dividing in the fall is a great time since the foliage has completely died back to the ground, which means they have stored energy for next year's blooms. Hopefully you marked the clumps in the spring that you want to divide, since there won't be any foliage for you to find.

Using a shovel or potato fork (if your soil is lose) gently dig out the bulbs and separate the large bulbs from each other. Discard any bulbs that are soft or may have gotten damaged by the shovel. If there are any tiny little bulblets still attached to the root end of a larger bulb, you should leave them attached. They will eventually grow and form a bulb that will be large enough to bloom on it's own.

Replant the bulbs in the soil, pointed side up, root side down, about three times their height. In other words, if the bulb is 1" tall, plant the bulb 3" deep. Place large bulbs about 5"-6" apart with smaller bulb varieties closer together. Don't allow bulbs to touch in their new spots as this can promote disease, plus they won't have room to multiply. At this time, you can mix in some compost with the existing soil before adding it back into the holes if you like. I usually just back fill all the holes and then put some compost on top of the garden once all my transplanting and dividing is done. The worms and other critters will move the compost down through the soil. Autumn is also a great time to fertilize daffodils with a slow release granular fertilizer (follow the directions for the brand you purchased to know how much each bulb will need).

Once you have replanted the bulbs and fertilized them, make sure you water everything well. This will help the soil to settle around each bulb and will help to mix in the fertilizer with the soil.

When spring arrives and the daffodil foliage just starts to emerge from the soil, it's a good idea to give your newly divided daffodils another dose of fertilizer. Any bulbs that were a little too small to bloom this year, will most certainly bloom the following year.

Divide in Spring - After Blooming

You don't have to wait until fall to divide your daffodils. Though fall is ideal, the next best time to divide daffodils is after the daffodils have bloomed and when the foliage has started to turn brown. Spring is a great time to divide daffodils because you can actually tell where the daffodil clumps are because the foliage has not died back completely. If you plant your daffodils among other perennials, you might also appreciate dividing in the spring when other plants are still small.

Dividing daffodils in the spring is similar to dividing in the fall. The main difference, is that you will have foliage to contend with. Separate the bulbs as you would in the fall, just make sure the foliage stays attached to the bulb, as the foliage is the bulb's main source of food.

Using a shovel or potato fork (if your soil is lose) gently dig out the bulbs and separate the large bulbs from each other. Discard any bulbs that are soft or may have gotten damaged by the shovel. If there are any tiny little bulblets still attached to the root end of a larger bulb, you should leave them attached. They will eventually grow and form a bulb that will be large enough to bloom on it's own.

Replant the bulbs in the soil so that the foliage will be outside the soil, at about the same level they were when you dug them up. Place large bulbs about 5"-6" apart with smaller bulb varieties closer together. Don't allow bulbs to touch in their new spots as this can promote disease, plus they won't have room to multiply. At this time, you can mix in some compost with the existing soil before adding it back into the holes if you like. I usually just back fill all the holes and then put some compost on top of the garden once all my transplanting and dividing is done. The worms and other critters will move the compost down through the soil.

At this time I would wait to fertilize until the fall and then again the following spring, just as foliage is beginning to emerge from the ground. You want to fertilize in the fall because the bulbs are growing roots at this time. When you fertilize in spring, you are supporting the bulb's bud growth. Fertilizing any other time of the year is a waste of time and money.

Divide in Spring - While Blooming

Dividing your daffodils while they are still blooming, is less than ideal, but you won't kill them. If for some reason, you have to divide while they are in bloom, I would suggest cutting all the stems that are blooming, but them in a vase with some water, and enjoy them indoors. Once that is done, dig up the clumps as I described above and replant as described. Fertilize in the fall and again early the next spring.

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