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Helen Chesnut's Garden Notes: Mushy bulbs likely due to narcissus bulb fly

Whenever you find bulbs that have softened, and especially if there is a hole in a bulb base, the cause is the narcissus bulb fly.
Pansies and violas are a colourful underplanting for daffodils. They also make it difficult for bulb flies to access the bases of the daffodil plants. HELEN CHESNUT

Dear Helen: Some of my daffodil bulbs produced spindly leaves and no flowers this spring. I dug a few up and found the bulbs to be mushy. What might have caused this? The soil is well drained.


You were wise to check out the flagging plants. Whenever you find bulbs that have softened, and especially if there is a hole in a bulb base, the cause is the narcissus bulb fly. Remove infested bulbs and do not compost them.

Adult flies emerge from pupation around the time of temperatures rising to 20 C in the spring. They lay eggs in the soil by declining daffodil foliage. Larvae that hatch from the eggs bore into the bulb bases, feed, and overwinter there. The adult flies look like bumble bees. There is usually one large grub in a bulb.

Another pest, the lesser bulb fly, is small and black. It leaves many small larvae in a bulb. Feeding by larvae of both pests makes the bulbs able to produce only a few thin leaves.

Bulbs can be protected from the flies by floating row fabric placed over narcissus plants after flowering and leaving it in place until July. Bulbs planted at least 25 cm deep and those growing in dense ground cover will have some protection.

Dear Helen: I was wondering, all through the cold weather earlier this spring, when to put transplants I’d grown into my little greenhouse. How much protection does an unheated greenhouse offer?


Not much. I keep a minimum-maximum thermometer in mine, and wait to move even the hardiest transplants into the greenhouse until, inside it, overnight low temperatures stay around five degrees above freezing.


Nanaimo meeting. The Nanaimo Horticultural Society will meet this evening (Wednesday, May 10) at 7 p.m. in First Unitarian Fellowship Hall, 595 Townsite Rd. Barry Agar will speak about Gardens of Ireland

Dahlia meeting. The Victoria Dahlia Society will meet on Thursday, May 11, at 7 p.m. in St. Michael’s Church, 4733 W. Saanich Rd. Connie Young Davis will present Paintbush Pollination — a guide to creating your own dahlia variety.

Floral Art. The Mid Island Floral Art Club will meet on Thursday, May 11, at 2 p.m. in St. Stephen’s Church, 150 Village Way in Qualicum Beach. Theme of the meeting: Hogarth Curve and Bring a Design.” Information at [email protected].

Cactus show and sale. The Victoria Cactus and Succulent Society is hosting a show and sale on Friday, May 12, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday, May 13, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Church of the Advent, 510 Mount View Ave. in Colwod.

VHS sale. The Victoria Horticultural Society is hosting a sale of annual flowers, perennials, house plants and more on Saturday, May 13, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Garth Homer Centre, 813 Darwin Ave.

Ladysmith plant sale. The Ladysmith Saltair Garden Club will host a sale of annuals, shrubs, herbs, house plants, vegetable transplants, Mother’s Day gift plantings and “experienced” garden equipment on Saturday, May 13, from 9 a.m. to “sold out” time in Aggie Hall, corner of Symonds St. and 1st Ave. in Ladysmith.

Qualicum plant sale. The Qualicum Beach Garden Club will hold a plant sale on Saturday, May 13, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at 525 Yambury Rd. Offerings will include vegetable transplants and garden related items.

Mother’s Day at Abkhazi Garden. Abkhazi Garden and Teahouse, 1964 Fairfield Rd. in Victoria, is hosting a Mother’s Day Tea on Saturday and Sunday, May 13 and 14, with three sittings: 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. By reservation only. Call 778-265-6466.

Rhododendron sale. Cowichan Valley Rhododendron Society’s annual sale on Saturday, May 13, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in St. John’s Anglican Church, 486 Jubilee St. in Duncan, will feature hundreds of rhododendrons, perennials and companion plants.

Musical garden tour. Eight springtime gardens will be featured on the Victoria Conservatory of Music Mother’s Day Musical Garden Tour on Saturday and Sunday, May 13 and 14, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. For a list of ticket suppliers or to purchase tickets online, visit

MARS garden tour. The Mount Arrowsmith Rhododendron Society is presenting a Mother’s Day tour of 12 gardens in Qualicum Beach and Parksville on Saturday and Sunday, May 13 and 14, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Find ticket vendors at

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