How to Grow and Care for Daffodil

Yellow hearty daffodils with orange blooms

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Daffodils (Narcissus spp.) are among the most popular of all spring-flowering perennial bulbs in growing regions that have the winter chill needed for the bulbs to reset themselves. Even in warm regions, daffodils are often purchased as prechilled bulbs and planted as annuals. Clusters of strappy basal leaves appear shortly after winter snows melt, followed shortly by flowers with a trumpet-shaped corona, or cup, encircled by a six-lobed corolla. Most varieties have blossoms in shades of yellow, but there are also white, orange, pink, and bicolor cultivars. There are more than 40 Narcissus species and over 32,000 registered cultivars. Native to areas of Europe and North Africa, daffodils are best-planted in mid-to-late autumn and will begin to rear their heads in early spring, reaching peak bloom about a month before the average last frost date.

Daffodils contain phenanthridine alkaloids and calcium oxalate crystals that make them toxic to both humans and animals. Fatalities are possible if large quantities of bulbs are eaten, and severe skin reactions can occur when the bulbs are handled.

Common Name Daffodil, narcissus
Botanical Name  Narcissus spp.
Family Amaryllidaceae
Plant Type  Bulb, perennial
Mature Size  6–30 in. tall, 6–12 in. wide 
Sun Exposure  Full, partial
Soil Type  Rich, moist but well-drained
Soil pH  Neutral, acidic
Bloom Time  Spring
Flower Color Yellow, white, orange, red, pink
Hardiness Zones 4–8 (USDA) 
Native Area Europe, North Africa
Toxicity Toxic to humans and animals

Daffodil Care

All things considered, daffodils are a great entry-level plant for novice gardeners developing their green thumbs. When selecting daffodil bulbs, choose ones that have a large, firm shape with a dry papery covering. Plant the bulbs pointed end up, about 3 to 5 inches deep. For an immediate, denser impact, the spacing between bulbs can be about 5 inches apart. If you're more patient, space them about 12 inches apart, as the bulbs will spread and fill in spaces within a few years.

Daffodils will not bloom more than once in a season, so when you notice the petals fading, allow the foliage to turn yellow and dry up. Some gardeners like to use this opportunity to dig up the bulbs, then save them until fall replanting time. This approach allows the space vacated by fading daffodils to be filled with other plants for the summer. Most gardeners, however, leave the daffodil bulbs in the ground, lifting and dividing every fourth year or so.

Daffodils require little care, other than watering during the active growing season and topdressing with bulb fertilizer in instances where the bulbs are not producing ample flowers.

Tazetta daffodil with orange and white flowers

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Double daffodil with yellow and red petals

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Cyclamineus daffodil with white petals and yellow cup

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Trumpet daffodils with yellow flowers on stems

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Small cupped daffodil with yellow and orange flowers

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Large cupped daffodil with white flowers closeup

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Double daffodil with yellow flowers and green leaves

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Triandrus daffodil with white flowers and yellow hanging bells

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Jonquilla daffodil with yellow and white flat flowers

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Tazetta daffodil with white flowers and yellow cluster

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Cyclamineus daffodil with yellow swept-back flowers and orange bell

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Split-cupped daffodil with orange flowers

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Light

Daffodils thrive best when planted in full sun (at least six hours), though they can withstand a bit of partial shade or dappled light. These are spring bloomers that often are done with their display by the time deciduous trees have leafed out, so they can work well when planted in areas that will be shady by midsummer but which have plenty of sun in the early season.

Soil

Daffodils prefer a neutral to slightly acidic soil pH of around 6.0 to 7.0 . They thrive in rich, moist soil but, as with most bulbs, they require excellent drainage or they will rot. Daffodils should not be allowed to sit in waterlogged soil.

Water

Daffodils like to be watered regularly in the spring and fall. But stop watering in mid to late summer, beginning about about three to four weeks after the flowers fade. Daffodils go dormant during the summer and prefer a drier soil at this time.

Temperature and Humidity

Daffodil hardiness will vary slightly depending on variety, but most daffodils are reliable within USDA hardiness zones 4 to 8. Most daffodils need a cold dormant period, which is why they're planted in the fall. Most types are not well suited for warm southern climates unless planted as annuals. However, certain divisions of daffodils (such as division 8, the Tazetta group) will grow in warmer climates, especially if given sufficient water. Overall, daffodils do equally well in humid and arid atmospheric conditions, provided soil moisture is appropriate.

Fertilizer

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 when the leaves first emerge. Lightly feed again when they flower. For the amount to use, follow the product label instructions.

Types of Daffodil

Breeders have classified daffodils into 13 different divisions, with many, many cultivars within each division, based on the form of the flower. The divisions include:

  • Division 1, Trumpet: The Trumpet daffodil boasts a center cup at least as long as its petals, with one bloom per stem.
  • Division 2, Large-cupped: The cup on this daffodil variety is more than one-third the length of the petals, but not as long as them, with one bloom per stem.
  • Division 3, Small-cupped: As the name implies, the cup on this variety is no more than one-third the length of the petals, with one bloom per stem.
  • Division 4, Double: This daffodil varietal features clustered cups and petals, with one or more blooms per stem.
  • Division 5, Triandrus: The flowers on the Triandrus daffodil have a hanging bell shape, usually boasting two or more blooms per stem.
  • Division 6, Cyclamineus: This daffodil varietal features swept-back petals and one bloom per stem.
  • Division 7, Jonquilla: The Jonquilla daffodil has small, fragrant flowers with flat petals and narrow leaves. Typically, you'll see one to five blooms per stem.
  • Division 8, Tazetta: Fragrant clusters of florets dot the Tazetta daffodil, with anywhere from three to 20 blooms per stem. The leaves and stems are also broader than usual.
  • Division 9, Poeticus: Pure white petals surround a flattened, crinkled cup on the Poeticus daffodil. Its cups generally have green centers circled in yellow and rimmed with red, and one fragrant bloom per stem.
  • Division 10, Bulbocodium: This daffodil varietal features small petals and a "hoop petticoat" shaped cup.
  • Division 11, Split-cupped: The cup on this varietal is split open, usually at least halfway.
  • Division 12, Miscellaneous: These do not fit into other categories, including inter-division hybrids.
  • Division 13, Species, wild variants, and wild hybrids.

All divisions may include cultivars described as "Miniature." These have the same features as their full-size counterparts but have smaller blooms, usually less than 2 inches in diameter.

Pruning

As the blooms fade, the top portion of each flower stem can be removed to prevent seed formation. But leave the foliage in place until it begins to yellow, as the plants are restoring the bulbs during this time. 

Propagating Daffodil

The easiest way to propagate daffodils is by lifting and removing the offshoot bulbs that form underground. This division is usually not necessary for the health of the plants, but it can be done every fourth year or so if colonies are becoming overgrown. Here's how to do it:

  1. In summer after the daffodil leaves have turned yellow and died, carefully dig up the clump and shake off the dirt.
  2. Set the bulbs in a shady location for at least two days to dry, then use your hands to carefully separate the bulblets from the parent bulbs. Discard any bulbs that are soft or notably damaged.
  3. The parent bulbs, as well as the offsets, can be replanted immediately, at a depth 2 to 3 times their diameter, spaced 10 to 12 inches apart. Or, they can be stored until late summer and fall planting time, which can begin in late August.

Be aware that very small offset bulbs will likely take several years to develop the vigor to produce flowers. Small bulbs will produce foliage for several years as they gain size, then begin to flower once they are sufficiently large.

How to Grow Daffodil From Seed

It can take as much as five or six years for daffodil seeds to grow into plants that have viable bulbs, so this method is rarely undertaken, except by professionals or very serious amateurs experimenting with hybridization. But should you have the patience to try it, seed propagation begins with harvesting seeds from the marble-sized pods that are left behind after daffodil flowers fade. When these seed pods shrivel and turn brown, you can break them open to extract the seeds inside.

Save the seeds until fall, then plant them about 1/2 inch deep in small pots or seed trays filled with potting mix or seed starter mix. Set the pots in a sheltered outdoor location to receive a winter chill period. In the spring, the seeds will germinate and sprout into tiny, grass-like seedlings. Continue to grow them in their small pots for at least three years. After this point, the plants will have small bulbs that will need to be systematically repotted into increasingly large containers each year. By year five or six, you will have bulbs that are sufficiently large to plant in the garden.

Potting and Repotting Daffodils

Daffodils can grow well in containers for up to three years if the pot is deep enough for their roots to fill out. With proper timing, you can grow potted daffodils for indoor winter flowering, simply by controlling the timing of the chill period. To successfully plant daffodils in containers, follow these easy steps:

  1. Choose a pot that is about 2 gallons for standard daffodils and 1 gallon for small bulbs or miniature daffodils. Make sure your chosen pot has drainage holes. Fill the container about two-thirds of the way with a standard commercial potting mix.
  2. Disperse the bulbs in 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.
  3. Move the container to a cool, dark spot where the temperature remains steadily around 40 to 45 degrees Fahrenheit for 12 to 16 weeks. Water whenever the soil feels dry. In colder regions, this chilling period can be conducted outdoors; or, the pots can be chilled in a refrigerator for the required time.
  4. After the chilling period when yellow shoots emerge, move the container to a sunny but cool spot (around 50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit) and continue watering.
  5. When the shoots turn green, the container can be moved into brighter sunlight (around 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit). Top dress with a handful of fertilizer or bone meal. Continue watering whenever the soil feels dry and be sure to turn the containers to promote even growth.

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 will do better if you move them to a spot in the ground and pot up fresh bulbs each year. While they are in the pot, however, remember that daffodils will need the required chilling cycle each year. They cannot be grown as perpetual houseplants.

Overwintering

When planted in their acknowledged hardiness range, daffodils usually don't require any winter protection against cold. But overwintering recommendations can very according to region. In regions with very cold winters but where there is no snow cover, growers often find that a layer of mulch will help ensure the survival of the bulbs.

Common Pests & Plant Diseases

Daffodils are famous for being almost immune to serious pest and disease issues. But on rare occasions, one of the following problems may occur:

Bulb rot is possible if daffodils are planted in badly drained soil. Daffodils can also be affected by narcissus yellow stripe virus, which causes brown and yellow stripes on the foliage. Affected plants will need to be removed and destroyed.

  • Narcissus flies lay eggs at the base of plants, which hatch and cause larvae to bore down into bulbs. You may well notice soft bulbs with worms inside during routine bulb division. Affected bulbs will need to be thrown away.
  • Bulb mites cause weakening of daffodils and are most likely with daffodils being grown indoors for seasonal display. Various spray pesticides will control them.
  • Nematodes cause lumpy lesions on the foliage. There is no treatment for these microscopic soil worms, and you may even need to give up growing daffodils in soils where they are present.

How to Get Daffodils to Bloom

Daffodils are usually reliable spring bloomers if they have their basic cultural needs met, as outlined above. When daffodils fail to bloom, look for one of these reasons:

  • Daffodil foliage was cut back too soon. Daffodil foliage generally persists for four to six weeks after the blooms fade, and during this time, the bulbs are being replenished as the leaves continue to conduct photosynthesis. If the foliage is cut back too soon, the result can be weakened bulbs that fail to bloom the following spring. This can be a notable problem when daffodils are naturalized in a lawn setting; if you mow your lawn too early in the spring, it can cut away the foliage before it has a chance to replenish the bulbs.
  • Bulbs were planted upside down. If you planted good large bulbs but they failed to flower in their first season, it's possible they were planted upside down. The proper orientation: pointy side facing up.
  • Bulbs are too young. Especially after division, the smaller offset bulbs often do not flower for a year or two. With extremely small bulbs, it can take even longer.
  • Soil is poor. Daffodils don't require terribly rich soil, but they do need some nutrition. Topdressing with a handful of bulb fertilizer in the fall may help prompt flowering the following spring. Be careful, though, as too much fertilizer can damage daffodil bulbs.
  • Not enough sunlight. As surrounding shade trees grow larger, increasing amounts of shade may cause your daffodils to bloom less. Pruning surrounding bushes and trees to restore sunlight may help.

Common Problems With Daffodil

Daffodils are usually very reliable plants that cause few problems. One common complaint, though, is that the plants are not at all attractive once the flowers fade, leaving gaps in the landscape and wilted, floppy foliage. This is unavoidable, as it is necessary to allow the foliage to die back naturally completely before removing it. One solution is to plant daffodils within gaps between other late-developing perennials, whose leaves will gradually cover the gaps left once the daffodil foliage has finally died back.

FAQ
  • How long do daffodil bulbs last?

    Unlike hybrid tulips and many other spring bulbs, most types of daffodils happily return each spring for many years. A colony of naturalized daffodils can thrive for decades if given just a light annual feeding with a granular bulb fertilizer.

  • What is the difference between a jonquil and a daffodil?

    The term jonquil is correctly applied to only one Narcissus species, N. jonquilla, known for narrow, reed-like leaves and yellow flowers in which the center cup is at least 2/3 the length of the outer petals. Jonquils are among the daffodil species that is somewhat more tolerant of warmer southern climates.

  • How can I naturalize daffodils in my lawn?

    A turf lawn that sprouts a colony of early spring daffodils is a most delightful sight, and it is rather easy to achieve simply by planting bulbs randomly around the lawn. But you will need to limit your use of pre-emergent weed killers, which can kill off the daffodils before they even appear. And if you use post-emergent weed killers, they will need to be carefully applied, spot-spraying individual weeds rather than broadcast spraying. Further, because daffodil foliage needs to die back naturally in order to replenish the bulbs, you will need to allow your lawn grass to grow long for the spring period. When the daffodil foliage turns yellow and dies, then you can resume normal mowing.

  • Are daffodils immune to rabbits, squirrels, and other animals?

    The natural toxins in daffodils makes them less likely to serve as food for deer, rabbits, and other animals. Planting daffodils among other vulnerable plants, such as tulips, can even protect them. But no plants are entirely immune to feeding animals when other food supplies are scarce.

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Article Sources
The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Narcissus. North Carolina State Extension.

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  4. Wyman, Donald. Wyman's Gardening Encyclopedia. MacMillan Publishing Company, 1986.

  5. Narcissus (Group). Missouri Botanical Garden.

  6. Van der Veek, Carl. Breeding Daffodils. White Flower Farm.

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  8. Pests & Diseases. The Daffodil Society.

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