About this time of year I start getting questions along the line of “My daffodils are finished blooming. Is it ok if I braid the leaves to make them look tidier while they die down?”
The short answer is no, not if you want them to bloom again next year.
Daffodils, need to replenish their energy for next year after they finish flowering this year. They do this through their leaves, through the process of photosynthesis, which is why you need to leave the leaves on your flowering bulbs after they have flowered. Once they’ve stored up enough energy for next year the leaves will die and then you can remove them and keep things looking tidy.
This process is the same for all flowering bulbs–including tulips, hyacinths, alliums, and lilies–but the question about braiding the leaves seems to come up most often in relation to daffodils. I suspect this is because daffodils bloom early in the season and their leaves take quite a while to fade away.
Braiding hinders photosynthesis by exposing less of the leaves to the sun, and often crushes the leaves. Trimming leaves shorter is also not helpful to the bulbs.
Leave the leaves as they are. They don’t look great while they die down, but it’s a necessary step in regenerating the bulbs.
If you are in a situation where you can’t have a bed full of dying bulb leaves, once they have flowered, pull up all the bulbs and plant new ones in the fall. This is what is done at public display gardens, and is the only way to have both the beauty of a robust flowering bulb display in spring and continually neat and tidy beds.
I think it’s a shame to compost bulbs after only one season in a home garden, which is why I try to plant my daffodils close to perennials that will come up shortly after they’ve flowered, hiding the decaying foliage.
The one thing you can and should do with your daffodils at this time of year is remove the spent flowers. More on that in this blog post.