February 2018

Just what are those daffodils with their leaves already above ground?

These fall-emerging daffodils are likely paperwhites. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

We know this past summer has been a challenge, but was it enough to lure spring bulbs out of the ground in fall? That’s the question from reader L.C. in Carmel, Ind.

She said she planted daffodils (Narcissus) a year ago, but they did not bloom last spring. This fall, what looks like daffodil leaves are about 12-inch tall in one of her flower beds.

I sent photos of the foliage and a dug-up bulb to bulb merchants to see if they could help solve this garden mystery.

“All spring-blooming bulbs start regrowing roots and foliage in the fall, but the roots come first and the foliage usually stays below ground,” says Scott Kunst, an heirloom bulb specialist at Old House Gardens in Ann Arbor, Mich.

“I’m sure I’m not the only gardener who has been planting something else in the fall and accidentally dug us some crocus or other bulbs and noticed that they already have a shoot sprouting up and inch or more,” he says.

The challenge was trying to figure out what type of daffodils could send their foliage above ground in fall.

“I think they are paperwhites,” says Becky Heath of Brent and Becky’s Bulbs in Gloucester, Va. “They bloom in fall.”

Paperwhites are daffodils that are usually not winter hardy in Indiana, thriving in USDA Zones 8 through 10, which are in the southern United States. Some may be hardy outdoors in USDA Zones 6 and 7 if the microclimate is just right.

In cold zones, many gardeners force paperwhites to bloom for the holidays and early spring. Photo courtesy Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center

Here in Indiana, we force paperwhites to bloom indoors, usually around the holidays. They are incredible fragrant and can perfume the room.

Paperwhites can be found in garden centers this time of year or ordered from online or mail order retailers.

As for what L.C., it’s possible her bulbs will bloom outdoors, but not likely. She might want to replace them with hardy daffodils for a spring show.



Comments are closed.