How To Grow And Care For Daffodils

Plant Attributes

Plant Attributes
 Common Name:  Daffodil, Narcissus
 Botanical Name:  Narcissus
 Family:  Amaryllidaceae
 Plant Type:  Perennial, Bulb
 Mature Size:  6–30 in. tall, 6–12 in. wide
 Sun Exposure:  Full, Partial
 Soil Type:  Moist but Well-drained, Rich
 Soil pH:  Acidic to Neutral (6.0 to 7.0)
 Bloom Time:  Winter, Spring
 Flower Color:  Pink, Orange, Yellow, White
 Hardiness Zones:  Zones 3-8 (USDA)
 Native Area:  Europe, Africa
 Toxicity:  toxic to dogs, toxic to cats, toxic to pets, toxic to people

Daffodil Care

Gardeners use the names “daffodil” and “jonquil” interchangeably. Technically, however, “daffodil” refers to large-flowered kinds with flat, strap-like leaves. “Jonquil” denotes N. jonquilla and its hybrids—they feature smaller, fragrant, clustered blooms and cylindrical leaves with pointed tips reminiscent of quills. If you stick to calling them all “narcissus,” you can’t go wrong.

Given proper care at planting, all daffodils thrive with virtually no further attention. Daffodils do not require summer watering (although they’ll accept it) and need only infrequent division. Water regularly while actively growing and blooming, then allow them to go dormant.

Light

Daffodils need full sun, or at least six hours of direct sunlight daily while they are growing for the best bloom. Daffodils can tolerate partial sun, but when planting, know that daffodil blooms will face the sun.

Soil

Grow daffodils under high-branching trees and flowering shrubs, among ground cover plantings, in woodland and rock gardens, or borders. Daffodils bulbs are prone to rotting, so plant them in well-draining soil with a neutral or slightly acidic pH. The bulbs grow best in soil that is loose or loamy with rich fertile ingredients. If you have heavy, poorly draining soil, plant them on a berm or in a raised bed. Loosen the soil when planting, and amend clay with well-rotted compost or a planting mix. These flowers also grow in containers filled with potting soil. Bulbs should be planted so that the pointed end is placed at least two times the depth of the size of the bulb.

Water

These flowers need a lot of water while growing—about an inch a week through manual watering or rainfall. Check the soil with your hands to determine if it is dry. While daffodils need water to establish, these plants are relatively easy to maintain because you will stop watering about three weeks after blooming. In a very dry climate, you may need to water the bulbs regularly in winter after planting as well as in spring.

Temperature and Humidity

Daffodil bulbs should be planted in fall after the temperature has cooled, which could be as late as November in the South. Cold treatment is required for the plants to form flower buds, so they do not perform well in frost-free areas. The bulbs are very winter hardy but should be planted deeper in cold climates (at about 6 inches instead of 4).

Daffodils do not mind humidity but need well-draining soil. A little mulch helps preserve moisture while the plants are actively growing, and keeps the bulbs cooler in summer while they’re dormant.

Fertilizer

Like other plants, narcissus bulbs need fertilizer. Forget the bone meal, which is not a complete fertilizer and takes years to break down. When preparing the soil for planting, mix in a fertilizer low in nitrogen, such as a 3-6-6 or a 5-10-10, at about one-fourth cup per square foot of growing area. You can fertilize again when leaf tips emerge in the spring, once again using a low-nitrogen fertilizer. Some gardeners also sprinkle bulb fertilizer over the bulb bed each fall at the rate specified on the bag, then scratch it or water it in.

Types of Daffodils

There are thousands of cultivars and many Narcissus species. Daffodil varieties have unique shapes, sizes, and colors, classified into 13 divisions. The divisions include Trumpet, Large-cupped, Small-cupped, Double, Triandrus, Cyclamineus, Jonquilla, Tazetta, Poeticus, Bulbocodium, Split-cupped, Miscellaneous, and wild variants. Here are some specific daffodil varieties often seen growing throughout the South:

  • ‘Dutch Master’: This large trumpet daffodil is one of the most widely grown in the world. It has bright yellow flowers and can be used for naturalizing.
  • ‘Angel’s Tears’ (N. triandrus): Clusters of small white or pale yellow flowers on stems to 10-inch rushlike foliage.
  • ‘Pheasant’s Eye'(N. poeticus recurvus): An old favorite that matures to one foot tall. Small yellow cup with green central “eye” and red rim and pure white, reflexed segments.
  • ‘Lent Lily’ (N. pseudonarcissus): One of the oldest daffodils―in cultivation since 1200 a.d. Grows to 12–14 inches tall with long yellow cups and twisted yellow perianth segments that sweep forward, giving the blossoms a dog-eared look.
  • ‘Twin Sisters’ (N. medioluteus): Grows to 14 inches tall, bearing two flowers per stem with white segments and small yellow cups. It’s a very late bloomer, usually the last daffodil of the season.
  • ‘Hoop Petticoat Daffodil’ (N. bulbocodium): Grows six inches tall. Small, upward-facing flowers are mostly trumpet, with very narrow, pointed perianth segments. Deep and pale yellow selections are available. It spreads by seed, making it a good choice for naturalizing.
  • ‘Jonquil’ (N. jonquilla): Semicylindrical, erect to spreading, rushlike leaves. Clusters of early, very fragrant, golden yellow flowers with short cups growing to one foot tall.

Pruning

After the blossoms fade, let the leaves mature and yellow naturally before cutting them back. If you cut the foliage before it yellows, subsequent flowering may be reduced or eliminated. Leaving foliage on the plants allows bulbs to restore—typically around eight weeks after flowers bloom.

Dividing is part of daffodil maintenance when flowers overgrow and fill the space. Lift and divide clumps when flowers get smaller and fewer. To make this job easier, dig clumps just after the foliage withers so you can tell where the bulbs are. Separate the bulbs and replant them in freshly amended and fertilized soil.

Daffodils also make an excellent cut flowers, but only include other daffodils in the vase. Freshly cut stems release a substance that causes other cut flowers to wilt.

Propagating Daffodils

Since daffodils grow from bulbs, division is an easy and effective way to propagate these flowers. Division isn’t necessary every year. After establishing plants, keep daffodils healthy by dividing them around every four years or when plants overcrowd the growing area or blooming decreases. Here’s how to propagate daffodils through division:

  1. After daffodils are yellow and begin to dry—typically around six to eight weeks after flowers die—cut back plant foliage to three inches.
  2. Use a garden fork to dig around the daffodil bulb—about four inches from the plant’s base. Carefully remove the daffodil clump without damaging the bulbs. It might take some time for the soil to loosen from the ground.
  3. Shake off excess dirt and inspect the bulbs for damage or soft spots. Discard unusable bulbs.
  4. Gently break new bulbs away from the parent bulb, which is the largest. Break away bulbs by twisting two bulbs in the opposite direction until they snap. Bulbs with the best chance to bloom the following year are typically more than one and a half inches in diameter—smaller bulbs will take longer.
  5. You can replant new bulbs immediately at 10 to 12 inches apart and a depth at least two times the bulb’s width or store bulbs for the following season. Water the bulbs well when planting.
  6. Store bulbs in a cool dark area if you want to save bulbs for the following year. Plant bulbs as soon as they are available in the fall, at least two to four weeks before the ground freezes. They should feel solid and heavy and be free of discoloration. “Double-nose” bulbs will give you the most and biggest flowers in the first season after planting.

How To Grow Daffodils From Seed

Growing a daffodil from seeds is more challenging than starting with bulbs, but it is still possible. Growing from seeds also takes longer—usually five or six years. Begin by harvesting seeds from daffodil pods after the flowers fade. You will know it is time when the pods are brown and shriveling. Break open seeds gently with your fingers or a clean, sharp knife. Keep seeds in a cool, dark area until the fall, when you can plant the seeds about half an inch deep in a seed-starting tray or small container. Fill the containers with potting mix and allow seeds to germinate into seedlings. Continue growing in the seed starting tray for about three years until small bulbs emerge that need transplanting into larger containers.

Potting And Repotting Daffodils

Daffodils can also be planted in pots in fall and left in a sheltered space over the winter. Select a container with drainage holes that is at least 12 inches deep and 8-12 inches wide. Fill about 2/3 with a well-draining potting mixture. Set bulbs close together—but not touching—in the pot with their tips facing up. Then cover the bulbs with soil.

You can store the container in a cool, dark area with moderate temperatures. Temperatures should remain around 40°F to 45°F for about three months, and the soil should remain slightly moist. Another option is to bury the whole pot in the ground, then remove it in spring. Move it to a sunny spot once the temperature has reached 50-65°F. Water when the soil is dry. After blooming is complete, the bulbs can be thrown out or planted in the ground.

Overwintering

Depending on the environmental condition and species type, daffodils are relatively resilient in cold weather. Adding a layer of mulch is beneficial in areas with no snow cover to help control moisture and to moderate the soil temperature.

Common Pests & Plant Diseases

Deer and rodents do not eat the bulbs since they are toxic. The most serious daffodil pest is the narcissus bulb fly. An adult fly resembles a small bumblebee. The female lays eggs on the leaves and necks of bulbs. When eggs hatch, young grubs eat their way into bulbs. Check bulbs before planting and destroy any grubs. Planting at the recommended depth will reduce infestations. The narcissus bulb fly is only one of the pests that impact daffodils. Other pests include bulb mites which are more likely to attack daffodils growing indoors, and nematodes, which, when found in the soil, means transplanting to a new location might be necessary.

One disease that affects daffodils is bulb rot, which occurs when planting flowers in soggy or poorly draining soil. Other types of rot and blight are present in daffodil plants when improper water, sunlight, or soil nutrients impacts the flower’s health.

How To Get Daffodils to Bloom

Daffodils are consistent bloomers when maintaining proper food storage levels in the bulbs. Wait to remove foliage until it dies back naturally because cutting leaves off too soon will prevent daffodils from replenishing the plant for next year after flower blooms fade. Removing foliage will also cause bulbs to be less strong the following year.

When planting daffodil bulbs, plant them correctly and only use mature bulbs. After dividing bulbs from the parent plant, small bulbs take longer to bloom. Fertilizers can assist in bud development, but be careful not to over-fertilize an area. Maintain proper sun exposure, moving the bulbs if an area becomes shady and overgrown. When daffodils stop blooming, it’s often time to dig them up and move them to a better location.

Common Problems With Daffodils

Daffodils experience very few issues, but these perennial bulbs still encounter some challenges.

Leaves Turning Black/Brown

In extreme weather conditions, daffodil buds may turn brown and dry out before blooming. Brown buds can occur in climates that are too hot or cold. Additionally, not maintaining enough moisture throughout the growing season can impact the foliage and blooms. Brown leaves can sometimes split, but adding a layer of organic mulch around the base and bulbs after the ground freezes helps.

Leaves Turning Yellow

Yellowing leaves can occur if the viral disease stripe is present. Unfortunately, this disease has no cure, so you will need to dig up and discard the daffodils bulbs. Aphids are a pest that carries this virus, so preventing exposure to the pest helps avoid the disease.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long can daffodils live?

    Daffodils are said to have an indefinite lifespan, especially once a clump has naturalized and begins to multiply. Daffodils are often found growing on old homesteads where the original bulbs may have been planted a century ago or longer.

  • What’s the difference between daffodils and paperwhites?

    Paperwhites, or Narcissus tazetta, are a more tender bulb usually forced indoors in winter and enjoyed around the holidays. They also can be planted outdoors in the Coastal and Tropical South.

  • Can I grow daffodils indoors?

    Among the Narcissus species, paperwhites are best for growing indoors. Unlike daffodils, they don’t require a cooling period to sprout and bloom.

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