JoAnne Skelly: Short daffodils |

JoAnne Skelly: Short daffodils

JoAnne Skelly
Flower buds show up on spring daffodils despite the plants being only a few inches tall. The ruler is stuck into the ground a bit more than an inch.
JoAnne Skelly |

When I got back from vacation, I was thrilled to see my daffodils growing. I looked more closely and realized they already had flower buds even though they were only a few inches tall. My bulbs have been in the ground a number of years and have always been tall before. What’s going on?

While there are some varieties of daffodils that are quite petite, mine are good old King Alfred variety, and they are supposed to be big. Some people say short daffodils mean not enough water. Well, that certainly was not the case this past winter when we had a wonderful amount of precipitation.

In addition to the extra water Mother Nature provided, I had used soaker hoses last summer in my bulb area where in previous years I had watered with an overhead sprinkler. Maybe my summer soaker hose technique was less efficient than I thought. And, while I had fertilized the bulbs a little last year, perhaps I didn’t apply either the correct fertilizer analysis, or I didn’t apply it at the optimal time of year. However, I had never fertilized in the past and the blooms grew tall. Although poor root development is another factor that can influence flower height, mine are older bulbs and had done well in previous years, so I suspect that is not the problem.

The main school of thought to explain short flowers is that winter temperatures were too warm to provide sufficient chilling hours.

“A plant’s chilling requirement is the number of hours the plant must be exposed to temperatures between 32 degrees and 45 degrees before the plant breaks dormancy.” (National Gardening Association)

Daffodils (and tulips) require 12 to 16 weeks of chilling with temperatures staying below 40 degrees. I seemed to remember a cold winter, but when I looked it up on the Weather Underground, October was warm. November had six days below 30 with some temperatures down into the teens. The last week or so in December and the first week in January were below 30 and often in the teens at night with some single-digit temperatures. Then January warmed up with daytime temperatures around 40 and lows in the high 20s. While the first few days of February were below 30, the rest of the month was warm. It seems consecutive chilling hours may have been the problem.

Oh, well. Short or tall, the color will be welcome.

JoAnne Skelly is Associate Professor & Extension Educator, Emerita at University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. She can be reached at