Not every garden mystery can be solved, but it is fun to research and try to figure things out. A few years ago, I noticed that daffodils and snowdrops in a certain non-irrigated area of my yard had very short stems compared to their normal growth. These are not petite varieties. For example, one variety typically is 13-15” tall, but the plants grew only to about 6” tall. The flowers and leaves otherwise appeared perfectly normal.
There could be several reasons for the spring bulbs' stunted form. For example, the soil could lack nutrients, the bulbs were planted too deep, or our region didn't have sufficient chilling hours (although other spring bulbs in the yard were unaffected). But my primary suspicion was that the series of recent droughts had affected their growth. Dry conditions lead to depauperate, or stunted, plants. Twenty years ago, in the fall, I could plant spring-blooming bulbs in non-irrigated areas of the yard and forget about them, knowing that the winter rains would do all the work of providing them with moisture. But California now has had multiple years of drought in a short time period, from 2012-2016 and 2020-2022, and I can no longer count on the restorative winter rains to irrigate the bulbs for me. I suspected that the bulbs likely did not receive sufficient moisture to achieve their regular height that they would achieve under optimal growing conditions.
But we received plenty of rain this winter! The bulbs should be fine, this year, right? Unfortunately, no. Again, certain plants (but not all) have shorter stalks, but bloom just fine. Well, there goes that theory. My next theory is that the shorter plants are growing in an area that was disturbed by some construction activity, namely too close to the gravel bed underlying some flagstones. Perhaps the soil lacks nutrients. I'll try fertilizing and amending the soil the next time I plant and see what happens. Regardless, I'll still enjoy the cheery spring blooms even if I have to look a little more closely for them.
photo by Erin Mahaney