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How to protect daffodil bulbs from pests

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Q. This spring, some of my daffodil bulbs produced only spindly leaves and no flowers. I dug a few up and found the bulbs to be mushy. What might have caused this? The soil is well drained.

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A. You were wise to check out the flagging plants. Whenever you find daffodil 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.

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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.

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Bulbs can be protected from the flies by floating row cover 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.

Q. Because it is always severely winter damaged and has required constant pruning, we are removing an evergreen clematis from a wire trellis. Can you suggest a replacement clematis that is not evergreen, has more delicate leaves, and will grow well on the wire support?

A. For their ease of care and prolific bloom, I’ve very fond of the small-flowered clematis types, in particular the Viticellas. Because they bloom on new, current season growth, the only pruning they require is cutting down close to the ground in late winter. Among the Clematis viticella varieties, Mme. Julia Correvon is a star, with deep wine-red flowers all summer long. It grows quickly to cover a support.

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