Growing Daffodil Bulbs

Flowers That Trumpet Spring

Daffodils with long trumpets (image) are classic. Other forms do exist, too.
Many prefer types of daffodils that sport trumpets. It's as if the flowers "trumpet" spring's return. David Beaulieu

Taxonomy, Botanical Classification for Daffodil Bulbs

Plant taxonomy classifies daffodils as belonging to the genus, Narcissus. The genus name derives from the name of the youth in Greek mythology who died while leaning over a pool of water, transfixed by his own image (the flower that later sprung up from the spot was named "Narcissus"). We also derive the word, "narcissist" from this ancient story.

Daffodils are spring bulb plants grown for their flowers. They are true bulbs, unlike crocuses, for example, which grow from corms, technically. The plant belongs to the amaryllis family.

Plant Characteristics

Because many of these bulbs produce fragrant, cheerful flowers in early spring, they are prized as heralds of better weather in cold climates. In fact, a nickname for daffodils is "Lent lilies," as their re-emergence coincides, in some regions, with the Catholic season of Lent. The same holds true for the so-called "Lenten rose."

Daffodils are one of our most recognizable flowers. What child is not fascinated by the proboscis-like coronas of the yellow trumpet types, protruding from a sun face with six yellow petals? But these flowers come in various sizes, shapes and colors, including miniatures and those with cups rather than trumpets. Their leaves are sword-shaped.

Planting Zones, Where to Plant Your Bulbs

Indigenous mainly to the Mediterranean, daffodil bulbs will grow in planting zones 4-9.

The usual recommendation is to grow them in full sun and in a well-drained, friable, slightly acidic soil. But some report that they display clay-tolerance.

The full-sun requirement, however, is not as difficult to meet (especially for the earliest blooming varieties) as it is for many plants, since daffodils bloom in spring, meaning they can be grown under deciduous trees.

The daffodils get enough sun in the spring (before the trees leaf out) to grow and acquire the nutrients they need for the growing season. But do not plant them under evergreen trees, since the latter cast shade during the entire year and would deprive your daffodils of the necessary springtime sunlight.

Care Tips

Daffodils are easy to grow. But the plants do spread over time and eventually become too crowded, after which flowering declines. You have two choices to remedy this:

  1. Dig your daffodil bulbs for storage when the leaves turn brown; re-plant them in flower beds in fall.
  2. Divide the bulbs in fall every 5 years.

#2 is less work. If you select #1, hang the daffodil bulbs in a mesh onion bag in a cool, dark place with good ventilation during the period of time that they will be in storage.

For the sake of plant nutrition, leave the foliage alone after blooming, at least until the leaves turn yellow. If the ratty foliage bothers you, disguise it by interplanting with other plants; for example, you could use stella de oro daylilies, whose flowers will also give you some nice landscape color.

Uses in the Landscape

Few flowers are better suited to woodland gardens. Some types of daffodil bulbs (for example, Carlton) naturalize well. Since they require a well-drained soil, also consider growing them in rock gardens.

Late-blooming types with strong fragrance are among the plants that attract butterflies. But it is what these bulbs do not attract that is more important, perhaps. Squirrels make major pests of themselves digging up and eating tulip bulbs, crocuses, etc. A selling point for daffodil bulbs is that squirrels tend not to eat them (squirrels may, however, dislodge your bulbs). Furthermore, daffodils are deer-resistant plants, owing to the toxicity of the leaves -- a fact to keep in mind if you have small children around. The plants are also poisonous to dogs, as well as to cats and to a variety of farm animals. Other deer-resistant bulbs include Siberian squill.

Guide on How to Plant

Plant the bulbs in fall. Some types are fussier than others about chilling requirements; a trusted local nursery will sell types suitable for your area and suggest an optimal planting time.

Planting depth should be 2-3 times bulb height. The pointy part should face up. Some gardeners fertilize at planting time with bone meal. Others say bone meal is unnecessary at this time and invites pests to dig around, which could dislodge your daffodil bulbs. If this is a concern, lay chicken wire on top of the ground after planting. Or you could hold off on the bone meal till spring and just use some compost when planting.

The Name Game: Jonquils and Paperwhites Are Also "Daffodils"

The American Daffodil Society (ADS) recommends "daffodil" as "the common name for all members of the genus, Narcissus." Since jonquils and paperwhites are classified as Narcissus flowers, they, too, can be called "daffodils," they observe.

The ADS explains just what constitutes a "jonquil":

"As a rule, but not always, jonquil species and hybrids are characterized by several yellow flowers, strong scent, and rounded foliage."

Another term you will hear is "Paperwhites." Paperwhites are also part of the genus, Narcissus and may also be referred to simply as white "daffodils."