Bill Carter, Washington

Digging bulbs? How many dig and transplant every year?

May 8, 2013

Category: Growing Daffodils

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I’ve been growing Daffodils for years but generally dig and replant when they get too crowded.  ~10 years.  It’s a lot of work.

I’m finding more people who show, and others who grow commercially dig and replant quite often.  Every season or two.


1) What are the advantages of digging and separating on an annual basis?

2) How many dig every year?  And why?


6 responses to “Digging bulbs? How many dig and transplant every year?”

  1. Clay Higgins, New Jersey Clay Higgins, North Carolina says:


    I’m just one person, but as an exhibitor I like to dig and replant on a two year rotation.  1/2 each year.  My reason is the I don’t have the energy to do all of it each year.

    I’ve seen arguments on daffnet over the years that some people say they dig and replant every 3 or 4 years.  I find the production of blooms and the quality of the blooms fall off drastically after two years.  My best blooms are the first year after replanting and the second year they are still productive.  However, I plant back mature, fully grown bulbs. Again, one person’s opinion.


  2. Jason Delaney, Missouri Jason Delaney, Missouri says:


    I lift my stocks every 3-5 years, depending on the seasons and rate of re-establishment following replanting.  For me, this is done for two reasons.

    The first and for me, the most critical, is the soil type.  Hoyleton loam is the soil composition where my bulbs are farmed.  It is wonderfully nutrient-rich soil found south of the glacial till fields in southeastern IL.  Classified as prime agricultural soil, for daffodils it can grow some enormous plants and bulbs, and offset increase is usually on par with the best one could desire, even on slow or difficult varieties.   However, this soil is structureless, it has tremedous water retention properties, and worse than anything, it has extreme shrinking and swelling capabilities:  in the summer months, massive cracks form (and always directly over the rows!), exposing the bulbs as far down as they are planted), and in the winter, the freeze-thaw cycles frequently heave entire clumps directly out of the ground, as if they had spring-loaded roots, even when planted deeply (8-10″) and rooted in (we’re south of the snow belt and north of the frost-free belt, so deep freezing without snow cover is generally the norm for us, which makes growing many div. 7s and 8s a very difficult challenge!).   My bulbs must be lifted every so often and reset  to 10″ deep, lest they continue heaving and eventually decline or worse, die from exposure.  (In another ten years or so I may have to re-evaluate this passion, when my back says it’s had enough!)

    The second reason for frequent lifting is the advantage of considerably larger bulbs when it’s time to sell.  I prefer lining out chips and rounds, which in 3-5 years’ time yield nice multiple-nosed bulbs so that orders go out with more blooms per bulb.   It is a lot of work, but it also enables me to rotate the crop, address problematic varieties and, and for the purpose of sales, it keeps the bulbs bigger longer, making them more attractive to the consumer.  I don’t recall anyone complaining about the size of my bulbs.

    If I weren’t growing daffodils on a commercial level, but rather in my home garden:   with proper site consideration, soil preparation, and proper depth and spacing, I would expect no less than ten years–if not considerably longer, depending on the variety–from my bulbs, undisturbed.  We have clumps at the Shaw Nature Reserve in Gray Summit, MO that have been untouched for 80 years, and they continue blooming beautifully.  For the exhibitors, lifting frequently keeps the flowers larger and potentially smoother, which is important for exhibition, but not for the casual gardener or commercial enterprise.  Pick the method that works best for your situation, and pick the one that requires the least amount of work.  After all, gardening with any plant group should be more about the enjoyment it brings than the work it creates.

    All best,

    Jason Delaney, Missouri Botanical Garden and PHS Daffodils



  3. Bob Spotts, California Bob Spotts, California says:

    I try to dig one-third of my backyard beds each year in June. I leave the newly dug beds fallow until November of the next year.  I started this many years when I was growing only commercially obtained cultivars (for parents and show) in the backyard beds.(I was growing my seedlings in Sid DuBose’s field in Stockton CA.)  I was losing many to basal rot (sometimes over 50%) after their being down over a year. I was advised to leave the fusarium-infested beds fallow for three years – but this was not feasible – I simply don’t have enough space! I figured 17 months rest was better than nothing – and so it has turned out to be. Fusarium losses still occur with regularity, but the incidence is much reduced. Now that I grow my seedlings in these beds, there is little room for any commercial cultivars. Lifting every third year allows me to discard unselected seedlings – which I must do in order to make room to plant the juvenile bulbs taken from the seed beds/boxes. The beds dug in June still rest until November in the following year.

  4. Clay Higgins, New Jersey Clay Higgins, North Carolina says:


    We had known each other for a dozen or so years so I’m attempting to be humorous here!

    Thank you for the lesson on how commercial growers treat their daffodil bulbs.  I’ve always wondered why it takes two or three years for bulbs that I procure to start producing quality bulbs – they are grown to long and to the point of overcrowding before they are dug and sold. 🙂  The only exception is the British Isles bulbs that do great the first year than takes two or three more years before they adapt to my way or growing/climate/soil.

    I’m finding that I’m buying less bulbs each year as my own hybridizing has produced many show quality blooms – not necessarily worthy of registration because there may be others already registered that are better.  However, they do very well in collections and are show worthy.

    One last thing.  I have found that some daffodils do not do well when dug each year.  Therefore I have developed an area where I “naturalize -with an eye toward showing” and leave them for many years.  Winter Waltz, e.g., is one of those hard keepers in my experience if you dig it often.

    Good to see your post.  Enjoyed Bob Spotts comments as well.


  5. David Adams, New Zealand says:

    Three points from Clay’s posting.

    As a commercial grower I use a two year digging and planting cycle. The late Alf Chappell always told me that a first year flower was credit to the seller and then it took seven years to ‘grow a new bulb’ – ie for the bulb to acclimatise to its new situation.

    I agree with the  notion that some cultivars do not like lifting. I have named a number of superb Div 3 Y-R cultivars. The only problem was that I named them after seeing a whole row of show worthy flowers on five year down stock. None of them have done well after lifting. I have now planted some in positions where they will not be lifted to see if my theory is correct.

    We have often been told that the poeticus do not like being lifted. I wonder if the Div 3 flowers are still close to their poet ancestry and only flower well if undisturbed.

    It is good to work with your own seedlings but be aware that you soon run out of genetic diversity and your seedling quality diminishes. And why not breed from the best and latest hybrids available. At least you keep up with new developments from the best in the business.


  6. Clay Higgins, New Jersey Clay Higgins, North Carolina says:


    I was trying to be humorous, however, you are correct.  That’s why I still buy daffodils every year.  I like to select the best of the new “models” from the other growers and introduce their line into my hybridizing.

    However, I find that on the first generation you don’t always get what you want.  The Rose ribbon in Richmond this year was a 2W-W with St. Keverne as a seed parent.  I had crossed it with Pink Silk and got an all white that looked like it’s seed parent except for the color.  It’s like human children.  You never know what you are going to get (as well as a box of chocolate) if you have watch “Forest Gump.”