Garden Detective

Garden Detective: What happened to the daffodils?

Garden Detective: What’s wrong with these daffodils? Most likely, it was bud blast.
Garden Detective: What’s wrong with these daffodils? Most likely, it was bud blast.

Q: My daffodils came up this year and had buds, but none of them actually opened and bloomed. I planted them four years ago and got blooms the first two years. They are naturalizing. Do I dig them up and start over?

Melinda Hutchings, Sacramento

Blame this on our wacky winter weather. It got really warm really early, so the bulbs sent up shoots and bloom stems. But then, cold nights – including some low temperatures near freezing – put the brakes on the bloom schedule. It’s as if the daffodils decided, “Never mind.”

Called “bud blast,” this condition can be brought on by several factors. Among them: Too much nitrogen fertilizer (it promotes leaves, not flowers); extreme hot or cold temperatures after last year’s bloom; the bulbs were planted too shallow; or the foliage was cut back too soon.

Keep the daffodils in the ground. Let the leaves grow out to nourish the bulbs. Trim their foliage after it browns and dies back. Then, wait until next year.

Dig up and divide only when the bulbs become overcrowded, usually every three to five years. Although your bulbs have been in the ground for four years, they don’t appear to have reached that stage. Dig and divide bulbs in late summer or early fall; September is ideal in Sacramento. Break the clumps into two or three bulbs each, and replant them 12 to 18 inches apart, 9 inches deep. Add a little bone meal or bulb fertilizer to each hole before planting.

Your naturalized bulbs could use a little feeding, too. After the foliage dies back, cover the bed with organic mulch (such as compost) to add nutrients back into the soil. This also helps protect them from extreme temperatures. In winter, sprinkle a little bone meal over the bulb bed; that encourages more blooms.

Wrong worm

It may indeed be cutworms or armyworms that are eating reader Willard Erhardt’s lettuce, but it wasn’t the bug pictured in the Feb. 21 Garden Detective.

Sharp-eyed expert Art Shapiro of UC Davis spotted the wrong worm immediately.

“(The worm pictured) is a mature larva of the European large white butterfly, Pieris brassicae, one of the world’s worst cabbage pests and one we – thankfully – don’t have in North America,” Shapiro said. “It is, alas, naturalized in Chile.”

Instead of that hairy yellow and black worm, local gardeners should be on the lookout for something much more drab.

“Real cutworms are dingy and usually nearly unpatterned, as befits nocturnal critters,” he added. “They are larvae of noctuid moths. They are almost all hairless or nearly so.”


Questions are answered by master gardeners at the UC Cooperative Extension services in Sacramento and Placer counties. Send questions to Garden Detective, P.O. Box 15779, Sacramento, CA 95852. Send email to h& Please put “Garden Detective” in the subject field and include your postal address. To contact UC Extension directly, call:

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