Long-lived daffodils are one of the easiest to grow and most popular spring flowering bulbs. If you think you know all about daffodils, consider that there are more than 50 species and more than 25,000 registered cultivars or hybrids. There is more to daffodils than the pretty yellow trumpet flowers that cheer up the spring landscape.
There is no data on how long a daffodil plant can live, but a stand of daffodil bulbs can easily outlive the person who plants them. You can often tell where a house foundation used to be because of the outline provided by the daffodils that were planted around it.
- Botanical name: Narcissus
- Common name: Daffodil, narcissus, jonquil, and daffadowndilly
- Plant type: Bulbous perennial
- Mature size: 12 to 18 inches tall and half as wide
- Sun exposure: Full sun to partial shade
- Soil type: Rich and moist
- Soil pH: Slightly acidic to neutral
- Bloom time: Spring
- Flower color: Yellow, white, red, orange, green or pink
- Hardiness zones: 3 to 8
- Native area: Spain, Portugal
How to Grow Daffodils
Plant the bulbs pointed end up. Rule of thumb says to plant them twice as deep as they are wide. Three to 5 inches is about right. You can add bulb food or bone meal at planting time to get the bulbs off to a good start. Water well and keep them watered, whenever the soil dries out. Gardeners in warm climates can also plant pre-chilled bulbs, but those are grown as annuals.
Most pests steer clear of daffodils. An exception is the narcissus fly, which feeds on the flower buds.
Daffodils thrive best in full sun to partial shade. Daffodils bloom best in full sun, but a little dappled spring shade should not affect them greatly.
Daffodil plants prefer a neutral to slightly acidic soil pH of 6.0 to 7.0. As with most bulbs, they require excellent drainage or they will rot. Since daffodils can survive for years, you will want to find a spot where they do not sit in waterlogged soil.
Daffodils like to be watered regularly in the spring and fall. If there is no snow cover, the corms will also need water throughout the winter. Stop watering about 3 to 4 weeks after the flowers fade. They go dormant during the summer and prefer a drier soil.
Temperature and Humidity
Daffodil hardiness will vary slightly with varieties and exposure, but most daffodils are reliable within USDA hardiness zones 3 to 8. Most daffodils need a cold period to set blooms, but certain divisions of daffodils will grow in warmer climates, especially if given sufficient water. The Jonquilla and Tazetta varieties, which include the paperwhites, are Mediterranean natives that do not require pre-chilling to bloom.
Daffodils are pretty self-sufficient, but if you have poor soil or the plants are not flowering as much as they should, top dress with bulb food or bone meal when the leaves first emerge. Lightly feed again when they flower.
Daffodils will live and bloom for decades, without any division. If you want to divide your daffodil bulbs, lift them after they have finished flowering, and replant immediately.
Big sunny clusters of daffodils are an arresting sight in spring, but they are followed by large clusters of yellowing foliage. Although they look stunning paired with purple hyacinth or some of the vivid pinks, an all bulb garden bed can quickly become an eyesore.
Interplanting with a grassy type plant, like liriope, will minimize the sight of yellowing foliage in large drifts outside of the flower beds. Within the beds, the fading foliage is not as big a problem, since the rest of your garden should be emerging from dormancy as the daffodils fade.
The leaves need to be exposed to sunlight, so do not braid them to make them look tidier. You can, however, slightly flatten them between other plants to partially hide them.
Daffodils may bloom and spread for decades. And sometimes, they abruptly stop blooming, a condition called going “blind.” It may be an insect problem, too much shade, or perhaps they have moved too far down in the soil and need to be lifted.
Planting Daffodils in Containers
Daffodils can grow well in containers for up to three years if the pot is deep enough for their roots to fill out.
- Choose a pot that is 8 to 12 inches in diameter and at least 8 inches deep. The deeper the better, since daffodil roots like to reach down about 12 inches. Make sure it has drainage holes.
- Fill the container about 2/3 full with potting mix.
- Place the bulbs around the pot, close but not touching, so that their points are just below the rim of the pot.
- Lightly cover the bulbs with soil and water well.
- Move the container to a cool, dark spot where the temperature remains steadily around 40 to 45 degrees F for 12 to 15 weeks. If you want to make it really easy on yourself, bury the container and lift it in early spring.
- Water whenever the soil feels dry.
- After the chilling period, move the container to a sunny, but cool (55 to 65 degrees) spot and continue watering.
- When leaves emerge, the container can be moved into indirect sunlight, but keep it cool. Warm temperatures will diminish flowering.
- Continue watering whenever the soil feels dry.
- You can leave your daffodil bulbs in the pot after flowering. Move the container to a shady spot and continue watering it once or twice a week.
- Top dress with a handful of fertilizer or bone meal.
- When the leaves die off, place the pot on its side and let it dry out. Then start all over again.
- Potted daffodil bulbs can bloom for two to three years in the container, but they will do better if you move them to a spot in the ground and pot up fresh bulbs each year.
Varieties to Grow
There are 13 different types of daffodils, and they are based on the form of the flower.
- Trumpet: The center cup is at least as long as the petals, one bloom per stem.
- Large-cupped: The cup is more than 1/3 the length of the petals, but not as long as them, one bloom per stem.
- Small-cupped: The cup is not more than 1/3 the length of the petals, one bloom per stem.
- Double: Cup and petals are clustered, one or more blooms per stem.
- Triandrus: Flowers have a hanging bell shape, usually two or more blooms per stem.
- Cyclamineus: Swept back petals, one bloom per stem.
- Jonquilla: Small, fragrant flowers with flat petals and narrow leaves, one to three blooms per stem.
- Tazetta: Fragrant clusters of florets usually with more than three blooms per stem, the leaves and stem are broader than usual.
- Poeticus: Pure white petals surround a flattened, crinkled cup. Cups generally have green centers circled in yellow and rimmed with red, and usually one fragrant bloom per stem.
- Bulbocodium: These feature small petals and a “hoop petticoat” shaped cup.
- Split-cupped: The cup is split open usually at least halfway.
- Miscellaneous: These do not fit into other categories, including inter-division hybrids.
- Species, wild variants, and wild hybrids
There are many cultivars within each of the divisions. Among the most popular varieties are the following favorites:
- “Dutch master”: Classic yellow, dependable performer, early blooming (Trumpet division)
- “Pheasant’s eye”: White petals, yellow cup rimmed with red, fragrant (Poeticus division)
- “Cheerfulness”: Multiple blooms with pale petals and bright, fluffy cups (Double division)
- “February gold”: Bright yellow with swept-back petals, early bloomer, a good choice for warm climates (Cyclamineus division)
- “Fragrant rose”: White petals with a pink cup, rose-scented (large-cup division)