I don’t know a soul who doesn’t love daffodils. Like rays of sunshine rising from the ground, they announce the arrival of spring, the commencement of another growing season and renewal.
Whether they are commonly called jonquils or daffodils, Narcissus are easy to grow and dependably long-lived, often outliving the gardener who planted them. With over 50 species and more than 25,000 cultivars separated into 13 divisions based on the form of flowers, there is a wealth of daffodils available to gardeners. Below is a chart of the divisions in which daffodils are classified, a short description of each division, and a sampling of cultivars in each.
Wow – that is a lot of daffodils! With a selection this large, the hardest part of growing daffodils is deciding which ones to plant.
In our Zone 5 gardens, daffodils are best planted from late September through early November. Find a spot in the garden that offers full sun or light shade. Well-drained soil is a must – daffodil bulbs will rot in soggy soils. It may be faster to loosen large areas to be planted with a rototiller or garden fork, mixing in compost and bulb fertilizer or bone meal before starting to plant. The soil for smaller quantities of bulbs can be amended with organic matter and sprinkled with fertilizer space by space.
The general rule is to plant daffodils about three times as deep as the height of the bulb. For example, a bulb measuring 2 inches tall is planted in a hole 6 inches deep. Plant bulbs, pointy sides up, 3 to 6 inches apart in groups as large as your space and wallet allow. While a garden bouquet of daffodils are nice, drifts of daffodils take one’s breathe away.
After planting, water the soil covering bulbs thoroughly and apply a layer of mulch, shredded leaves or compost.
Caring for Daffodils
Daffodils are not prima donnas and don’t ask for much from their gardeners. If bulbs are not performing like they should, apply bulb food or bone meal when leaves emerge in spring.
Deadhead spent flowers for garden aesthetics, but leave the foliage intact to help bulbs store energy for next year’s flowers. Hide unattractive ripening foliage among other perennials. When the leaves have yellowed and died naturally, they can be removed.
Don’t over water gardens where daffodils are planted in summer. They prefer drier conditions when they are dormant. In the fall, however, moisture is essential when bulbs are growing new roots. The best time to fertilize daffodils is in the fall.
Daffodils rarely need dividing, but if flowering decreases or clumps are jam-packed with leaves, division may be necessary. Divide daffodils when the foliage yellows. Dig up the entire clump and separate the bulbs. Large bulbs with ‘babies’ attached are best left connected. Mother bulbs will detach from their babies when the time is right.
Replant bulbs as soon as possible at the same depth at which they were growing previously. Water thoroughly and the bulbs will do the rest.
Garden Companions for Daffodils
Daffodils are lovely planted just about anywhere – mixed shrub borders, perennial beds, woodland gardens, and meadows.
Hostas are ideal border buddies for daffodils. Daffodils bloom before the foliage of hostas has fully unfurled, and then their large leaves camouflage the yellowing foliage of daffodils. Daylilies, ferns, and other large-leaved perennials are also suitable bedfellows.
I always plant a few grape hyacinth bulbs with daffodils for two reasons. First, the foliage of grape hyacinths grows in the fall, reminding me where daffodils are planted. Next, I love the classic color combination created by the blue flower clusters of grape hyacinths blooming under yellow daffodils.
Interplant daffodils in a bed of ground cover; plant large drifts in meadow plantings; and place irregular-sized clumps in a woodland for a natural look.
Pests of Daffodils
Daffodils are rarely bothered by pests. Both the bulbs and foliage are poisonous so deer, voles, chipmunks, rabbits, and other garden marauders leave them alone.
Cutting Daffodils for Bouquets
Daffodils should be arranged in bouquets by themselves. When their stems are cut, they exude a substance that promotes wilting of other flowers.
2017 is the Year of the Daffodil
The National Garden Bureau has named 2017 the Year of the Daffodil. Take a walk around your neighborhood or a botanic garden, taking notes about favorite varieties of daffodils. Next, take a walk through your own landscape, marking locations that could use some daffodil dazzle. In fall, purchase some bulbs from your local garden center and then plant daffodils to brighten spring in your landscape for years to come. 2017 is also the year to garden with me!