How to deadhead daffodils: when and why to do it

Find out how to deadhead daffodils to help improve future flowering

How to deadhead daffodils
(Image credit: Alamy/Island Images)

Learning how to deadhead daffodils and narcissus when they start to fade after flowering is one of the gardener's most important late spring gardening jobs.

These early spring beauties are some of our most treasured plants, their glorious golden trumpets heralding the return of the sunny days of spring. So we need to take care of them to make sure they flower well year after year.

After all, getting the most from your blooms doesn't end with knowing how and when to plant daffodil bulbs. They need care and attention even after they have finished flowering to help encourage blooms in subsequent years.

How to deadhead daffodils in spring

How you treat your daffodils after flowering will influence how well they perform the following year, so it’s important to get it right.

A vital job is removing the dying flower heads. Knowing how to deadhead daffodils may sound simple, but it is so important as it helps the bulbs to mature and flower well in subsequent springs. 

Follow these simple tips for success:

  • There is no need to remove the whole stem at its base as it has a value to the plant as it dies back naturally.
  • Just pinch off the dead flower and the top inch or so of stalk, leaving the rest to photosynthesise and feed the rest of the plant as it dies back.
  • Deadheading daffodils stops the plants wasting energy by making seed heads instead of returning it to the bulbs to prepare them for next year’s blooms.

Deadheading flowers doesn't only apply to daffodils, it is part of the gardener's arsenal of important spring garden jobs to keep flowers looking their best.

Deadheading daffodils after flowering

Deadheading daffodils after they flower is an important spring job

(Image credit: Future/Ruth Hayes)

Feed daffodils after deadheading

You can help the process of daffodils returning energy to the bulbs by continuing to nourish the plants as they fade, either with a fortnightly watering with liquid tomato fertilizer such as Tomorite, available from Amazon, or an application of a general granular feed such as Growmore (from Amazon) when you do your deadheading. This will also help the bulbs to bulk up and mature.

Leave the foliage alone to die back naturally, a process that takes around six weeks. Plants may look untidy as they wither away, but you can disguise them by planting evergreen perennials and later-flowering bulbs around them.

Feeding deadheaded daffodils to bulk up the bulb

Feeding deadheaded daffodils to bulk up the bulbs after flowering

(Image credit: Future/Ruth Hayes)

Why should I deadhead my daffodils?

Deadheading daffodils removes the dead flowers to make plants look tidier and also to stop them forming seedheads, which wastes the plants’ precious energy that needs to be fed back down to the bulb by the leaves and stems to help it grow and mature.

If seedheads are left on the stems to ripen, the plants may weaken and the bulbs not grow and mature to provide bigger, better displays each year.

Removing dead daffodil flower heads by hand

Removing dead daffodil flowerheads either by cutting or by hand stops the plant wasting energy

(Image credit: Future/Ruth Hayes)

When should I deadhead my daffodils?

You should deadhead daffodils once the flowers fade, lose their color and start to go brown and crinkly. Just remove the dead flower, the little seedpod underneath and around an inch of stem.

What to do with daffodil bulbs that haven't produced flowers

If any daffodil bulbs have come up ‘blind’ and failed to flower we advise carefully digging them up to check they have not been attacked by pests or disease. You can do this at the same time as you are deadheading your other daffodils. 

Discard any that appear diseased or pest-ridden as well as any that feel soft or smell bad. Replant the healthy remaining ones at three times their own depth, ideally somewhere sunny in enriched soil. Let them die back naturally, feeding them as they do. 

If you've experienced similar problems after learning how and when to plant tulip bulbs, you can follow the same method as above for any tulip bulbs that fail to flower. 

A clump of daffodils that have come up blind with no flowers

A clump of daffodils that have come up blind with no flowers

(Image credit: Future/Ruth Hayes)

Should I tidy up the dying foliage on my daffodils?

In a word, no! When learning how to deadhead daffodils, the leaves should be left alone because the plant needs them to die back naturally to return energy to the bulb. 

If you cut off the leaves after flowering, or even tie them in knots to make clumps look tidier in your flower bed, it stops the foliage refuelling the bulbs and you may not get as many flowers in your borders or spring container ideas next year.

Never knot daffodil leaves after flowering as it can damage the plants

Never knot daffodil leaves after flowering as it can damage the plants

(Image credit: Future/Ruth Hayes)
Ruth Hayes
Gardening editor, Amateur Gardening magazine

Ruth is the gardening editor of Amateur Gardening magazine and spends her working days carrying out, writing about and photographing the tasks the readers should be carrying out each week, as well as testing many of the new products that arrive on the gardening market. She is horticulturally trained, with a qualification from the Royal Horticultural Society.