What Could Be Eating My Daffodils? (Solved)

What could be eating my daffodils

From past experience, I know how frustrating it is to see any of your flowers being surreptitiously destroyed.

It is even more frustrating when you don’t know what it is that is doing the damage.

If you are asking what could be eating my daffodils? We are going to examine some of the possible culprits here.

So let’s dive in.

What Could Be Eating My Daffodils?

If you know something is eating your daffodils, the most common offenders are slugs and snails. Go out with a spotlight after dark and see if you find them on your flowers. Bulb mites, narcissus fly and nematodes could also be the cause but are much harder to spot as they are practically invisible to the naked eye. Other common pests like squirrels and groundhogs love digging up daffodils.

#1: Slugs and Snails

Do slugs and snails eat daffodils? Is the Pope Catholic?!

Slugs and snails LOVE daffodils. If you are finding your daffodils have been damaged there is a fair chance they may be the offenders.

They tend mainly to munch on the flowers, not the leaves and are particularly prevalent when the weather is unseasonably wet and cold.

They do most of their work at night, so if you go into your garden after dark with a spotlight you can check to see if you find them on your daffodils.

They can do a surprising amount of damage in a short space of time and can also spread disease from already infected plants.

If you suspect slugs or snails are at play here there are a few ways to combat them:

  • Nematodes, which are microscopic parasitic insects, can be introduced to control slug infestations and are effective, but also expensive.
  • Slug pellets will attract slugs and snails and kill them by causing them to dehydrate.
  • Encouraging frogs and hedgehogs into your garden is useful as they will eat slugs and snails in small numbers
  • Go out at night and pick them off by hand and drop them in a bucket of soapy water.

#2: Narcissus Fly

The narcissus fly and the narcissus grub, which is the larval form of the narcissus fly, are serious threats to your daffodil.

The narcissus fly looks like a small bumblebee (see the video above) and is present on calm days when the temperature exceeds 68°F (20°C).

It emits a high-pitched whine when in flight and lays eggs under the leaf of a daffodil plant close to the ground.

When the egg hatches after a few days, the grub crawls down and finds its way into the daffodil bulb.

The grub will remain in the bulb and eat away at the center of it, getting larger itself and filling the bulb with black excrement.

When the soil warms up the grub will come out from the daffodil bulb to pupate in the ground, before the narcissus fly emerges in April or May and the whole process will start all over again!

If you think your daffodils may have been afflicted by the narcissus fly and grub, look for a small hole in the base plate of the bulb. If the larva is still small the bulb should still be firm.

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Alternatively, if the bulb is soft the larva may be quite well established. If you cut it open brace yourself to see a large grub in the center of the bulb, which has been hollowed out, and black excrement from the narcissus fly.

Finally, if your bulb doesn’t emerge the following season, you can expect to see a large amount of grass-like growth from the base plate.

Trying to deal with the problem of the narcissus fly is tricky. They are specific to daffodils (hence the name!) and are well adapted.

There is no 100% effective chemical preventative for the narcissus fly, but there are a few steps you can take:

  • Cover the beds with enviromesh or fleece to stop the fly from getting to the daffodil to lay its eggs. Insect nets and sticky traps can also control the narcissus fly population.
  • Using Pyrethrin based insecticides can be effective in killing the narcissus fly.
  • Hot water treatment will kill the grubs within the bulb, but at this point the damage has already been done.

#3: Bulb Mites

Another threat to daffodil bulbs is bulb mites.

Bulb mites only attack bulbs that have already been damaged by other pests or diseases and where the storage temperature is above 62°F (17°C).

They are tiny, practically invisible to the human eye (depending upon how good your eyesight is!), and tend to attack the top third of the bulb.

Inspect any newly bought bulbs for these mites before you plant them. 

As we mentioned they attack already damaged bulbs, so if your bulbs feel softer than normal there is a chance they could be suffering from an infestation.

There are a couple of ways to treat an infestation of bulb mites:

  • Introduce cosmolaelaps claviger into the soil. It is a natural predator of bulb mites and will take care of them for you.
  • Use a miticide to treat all of the bulbs you have to prevent future infestations.

#4: Nematodes

Of all the pests that damage daffodils, nematodes are possibly the most devastating.

These microscopic organisms appear eel-like, and live and feed on root systems. If left untreated they can destroy entire stocks of daffodil bulbs within a couple of years.

The first signs that your daffodils might be infested by nematodes will be what are called ‘spickels’. These are small yellow lesions, that are raised and lumpy, appearing on the edges of leaves or stems.

Foliage might also turn yellow and plant growth may be stunted, or not develop at all.

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If you cut across a daffodil bulb and see brown rings, it is a sure sign of nematodes.

There is very little you can do to stop nematodes once they are at work, but you can take steps to prevent them from returning in future seasons:

  • Carefully dispose of plants that are infected, making sure not to put them in your compost.
  • Sterilize any tools and areas that have been in contact with infestations.
  • Rotate your bulb crops.
  • Mix together a solution of water and Formalin and soak clean bulbs in it before you plant them.

#5: Earwigs

Earwig on plant

Earwigs do love to eat plants, so if you find irregularly shaped holes in your daffodil, they could be to blame.

Thankfully earwigs are nowhere near as serious as some of the pests we have outlined above, and they do actually do some good by eating aphids, slugs, snails and some insect larvae.

Nonetheless, you don’t want them eating your daffodil!

To stop them:

  • Apply a sticky barrier at the base of your daffodil to prevent them from climbing up. Something like sticky tape or petroleum jelly will work.
  • Sprinkle diatomaceous earth around the base of your daffodil. This natural mineral will deter them.

#6: Caterpillars

Caterpillars will often nibble on your daffodils in the same way slugs and snails will. 

They tend to be most prevalent in the winter or spring, and at night when it is particularly mild. 

During daylight hours they tend to be buried up to half an inch deep in the soil.

Again try going out when it is dark, and if you don’t find slugs or snails on your daffodil there is a fair chance you might find caterpillars.

They can be dealt with by:

  • Picking them off and placing them in soapy water.
  • Place some cardboard or tin foil around the base of your daffodil.

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#7: Pollen Beetles

These tiny black beetles are about the size of a pinhead and can often be found in the flowers of daffodils from spring until late summer.

Generally, they just feed on pollen and do little damage to the flowers, but, on occasion, they may damage unopened flower buds by forcing their way into them to feed.

It is advised you shouldn’t try and control pollen beetles and attempting to spray them with pesticide may do more damage to your flowers than to the beetle itself.

#8: Squirrels

Squirrel on fence

Squirrels don’t eat your daffodils, they just love to destroy them!

However daffodils are toxic to squirrels, and they can usually detect their scent and know how to avoid them.

That said, they may still dig up your daffodil bulbs as they forage for their nuts. 

They are pretty persistent creatures, but there are ways to deter them:

  • Use a wire bulb cage if you plant your bulbs in the same spot each year.
  • Sprinkle some cayenne pepper on the ground nearby, squirrels hate the smell of this.

#9: Groundhogs

Made famous by the 1993 film starring Bill Murray, groundhogs love any greens that might be on offer in your garden.

They will also not be shy in chewing your daffodils.

Like Punxsutawney Phil in the film Groundhog Day, these creatures hibernate all winter and come to life in the spring.

Generally, they can be spotted in the early morning and around dusk.

To keep them away from your daffodils:

  • Sprinkle cayenne pepper around the area, like squirrels they don’t like the smell of this.
  • Or try spraying castor oil and dish soap in the vicinity of your daffodils, this should have a similar effect.

Final Thoughts

If you know something is eating your daffodils, but aren’t sure what, then it is most likely that something from the above list is the cause.

The most common offenders are slugs and snails, and if you go out late at night you might be surprised by how many you find on your daffodils.

Less easy to spot are pests such as the narcissus fly, bulb mites and nematodes, all of which are practically invisible to the naked eye.

In some cases, salvaging your daffodils may be a lost cause, but knowing what is causing the problem means you can prevent it from happening in future seasons.

If you have something eating your daffodils and it isn’t anything in our list above, leave me a comment and we will do our best to find out what it is and, more importantly, to stop it!

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