Overview and Description of Daffodils
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 over 50 species and according to the National Daffodil Society (NDS), there are "...over 25,000 registered cultivars (named hybrids) divided among the thirteen divisions of the official classification system." There's more to daffodils than the pretty yellow trumpet flowers that cheer up the spring landscape.
There's no data on how long a daffodil plant can live, but a stand of daffodil bulbs can easily out-live 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.
There's been a lot of confusion about whether all Narcissus were daffodils, but the NDS has put the matter to rest by saying the terms are synonymous. The botanical name, Narcissus, should be used for scientific writing and daffodil everywhere else. So daffodil it is.
- Leaves: Basal, semi-erect to arching leaves are either strap-shaped or cylindrical.
- Flowers: Six petals surround a corona or cup, which can be flat, round or trumpeted. Petals are usually yellow or white. Cups can be yellow, red, orange, green or pink.
For descriptions of the 13 daffodil divisions, see the bottom of this page.
Daffodil hardiness will vary slightly with varieties and exposure, but most daffodils are reliable within USDA Hardiness Zones 3- 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 Jonquils (Division 7) and Tazetta (Division 8), which includes the paperwhites, are Mediterranean natives and do not require pre-chilling to bloom.
Gardeners in warm climates can also plant pre-chilled bulbs, but they are grown as annuals.
Full sun to partial shade. Daffodils bloom best in full sun, but a little dappled spring shade shouldn't affect them greatly.
Each variety of daffodil will have it's own mature height and spread, but in general expect them to reach 12 - 18 inches (h) x 6 - 9 inches (w)
Daffodil Bloom Time
All Daffodils bloom in the spring, but you can prolong their bloom period by planting early, mid, and late spring varieties.
Daffodil Growing Tips:
Soil: Daffodil plants prefer a neutral to slightly acidic soil pH of 6.0 - 7.0. As with most bulbs, they require excellent drainage, or they will rot. Since daffodils can survive for years, you'll want to find a spot where they do not have to sit in water logged soil.
Planting Daffodil Bulbs: 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.
Caring for Your Daffodils
Daffodils require minimal maintenance. They 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 3-4 weeks after the flowers fade. They go dormant during the summer and prefer a drier soil.
Fertilizer: Daffodils are pretty self-sufficient, but if you have poor soil or the plants aren't 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.
Dividing Daffodils: 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 asap.
Design Tips for Daffodils
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 don't braid them to make them look tidier. You can, however, slightly flatten them between other plants, to partially hide them.
Suggested Daffodil Varieties
To truly appreciate the variety of daffodils available, get yourself a bulb catalog that lists them by division and order a few of each.
- 'Dutch Master' - Classic yellow. Dependable performer. Early blooming. Div. 1, Trumpet
- 'Pheasant's Eye' -White petals, yellow cup rimmed with red Fragrant. Div. 9,Poeticus
- 'Cheerfulness' - Multiple blooms with pale petals and bright, fluffy cups. Div. 4, Double
- 'February Gold' - Bright yellow with swept back petals. Early. Good choice for warm climates. Div. 6, Cyclamineus
- 'Fragrant Rose' - White petals with a pink cup. Rose-scented. Div. 2, Large Cup
Pests & Problems of Daffodils
Most pests steer clear of daffodils. An exception is the Narcissus fly which feeds on the flower buds.
Daffodils can easily out-live you and may bloom and spread for decades. However 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 3 years, if the pot is deep enough for their roots to fill out.
- Choose a pot that is 8-12 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 2/3s 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 40-45 F. for 12-15 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 (55-65 F.) spot and continue watering.
- When leaves emerge, the container can be moved into indirect sun, but still 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 2-3 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.
The 13 divisions 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 3 blooms per stem.
- Tazetta - Fragrant clusters of florets, usually with more than 3 blooms per stem. The leaves and stem are broader than usual.
- Poeticus - Pure white petals surrounding a flattened, crinkled cup. Cups generally have green centers circled in yellow and rimmed with red. Usually one bloom per stem. Fragrant.
- Bulbocodium - Small petals and a "hoop petticoat" shaped cup.
- Split-Cupped - The cup is split open, usually at least half way.
- Miscellaneous - Those that don't fit into other categories, including inter-division hybrids.
- Species, Wild Variants, and Wild Hybrids