What could be more uplifting than drifts of butter-yellow daffodils, announcing the arrival of spring and lighter evenings ahead?
Daffodils are popular garden bulbs and thanks to years of breeding, there are numerous varieties available. It’s now possible to have daffodils flowering from borders, containers and hanging baskets, in colours from pure white to yellow, orange and even apricot pink.
The different types of daffodils
Narcissus, commonly known as the daffodil, is divided into as many as thirteen groups, usually classified by the flower type. Different varieties work in different parts of the garden.
For garden borders, planted in small groups or large drifts among shrubs and trees, taller, large-flowered varieties work well. You might add extra interest with a two-toned, double-flowered cultivar.
Dwarf varieties are particularly suitable for containers. The cheerful Narcissus ‘Tête-à-tête’, only growing to 20cm (8 inches) tall, blooms from late winter, and brightens border edges and hanging baskets. Meanwhile, the small-flowered wild daffodil Narcissus pseudonarcissus is a graceful option to naturalise in lawns.
Jonquil daffodils, also short in stature, are valued for their multi-headed blooms and their strong fragrance. They are most at home in a dry and sunny location, such as a rock garden. Also appreciated for its sweet-smelling flowers is the ‘Tazetta Paperwhite’ daffodil, often forced indoors for early flowers at Christmas.
Finally, ‘Pheasants Eye’ daffodils, whose blooms don’t emerge until late April, extend the flowering season of daffodils to the end of spring.
When to plant daffodils
Daffodil bulbs are best planted in September, while the soil is still reasonably warm from the summer just gone. As long as the weather is mild enough that the ground is not frozen or waterlogged, daffodil bulbs can still be planted up until December.
If you miss the autumn-planting window, pots of pre-planted daffodils are usually available from late winter to plant in early spring, often with a wide choice of varieties and colours available.
Daffodils flower best in rich, well-drained soil in full sun, but they can be grown in part shade too. If you are planting daffodils in a previously uncultivated part of the garden, you may wish to prepare the area by loosening compacted soil with a spade or fork, and enriching with well-rotted manure, which also improves drainage.
It can be helpful to position the bulbs on the soil surface where you intend to plant. By doing this, you can see where they will grow in relation to each other and other nearby plants. For a more naturalised look, toss the bulbs in the area you intend for them to grow, and then plant the scattered bulbs where they fall. Daffodils, often look more effective when growing in clumps or large drifts, rather than as single plants growing on their own.
Dig a hole three times as deep as the height of the daffodil bulb. So, for a bulb 5cm (2in) tall, you will want to prepare a planting hole 15cm (6 in) deep. If you are planting lots of bulbs, it can be helpful to use specialised bulb-planting tools. Some trowels have depth indicators engraved into them, so you know how deep your planting hole is, but you can also buy tools designed for digging a circular planting hole, specifically for bulbs.
Place the daffodil bulb pointed-end up at the base of the planting hole, then backfill with soil and gently firm down.
A positive to daffodils is that they grow happily in the ground and in containers. They often repeat their annual cycle with minimal additional care. As spring approaches and the shoots start to break the soil surface, there is little you will need to do but wait for the flowers to appear, and keep pots watered in dry weather. You could give the plants a boost with a balanced liquid plant feed (such as Miracle-Gro Performance Organics All-Purpose plant food) during and after flowering if you wish.
As the flowers fade and die, the first job is to deadhead. You can either remove the flower stalk or just the withered flower and bulbous seedhead. By doing this, you stop the plant investing energy into producing seeds. Instead the plant can focus on absorbing sunlight through its leaves, feeding the bulb all it needs to produce leaves and flowers the following year.
For this reason, it’s particularly important to leave the foliage until it starts to naturally die back in the summer. Unfortunately, this can look a bit unsightly. Some gardeners choose to tidy up the yellowing leaves by tying them together in a knot. It is best to refrain from doing this so that the plant has the best chance of absorbing as much sunlight as possible before it goes dormant, at which point you can cut the foliage back. If your daffodils are growing in a grass area, try to wait at least six weeks after they finish flowering before you mow.
The best way to propagate daffodils is to lift and divide the bulbs once they have gone dormant. By dividing the bulbs while the yellowing foliage is still visible, you know where to dig, and avoid the risk of piercing a bulb with your tools.
Daffodil bulb division does not have to be done every year; every three years will be plenty. Once you have lifted the bulbs from their growing position, examine the bulbs and discard any with rot or signs of disease. Young bulbs that are ready to be separated from the mother will come away easily. Small, immature bulbs still attached to the mother are best left. Once you have separated, you can replant the bulbs, using the new bulbs to spread colour to new parts of the garden.
Daffodil ‘blindness’ refers to situations where a daffodil fails to flower. There are numerous causes of this, including lack of sufficient moisture or nutrients in the soil, or because the plant’s foliage was removed too early the previous year. It may be a consequence of pest damage from the Narcissus bulb fly and eelworm, or diseases such as basal rot.
By following our essential tips for daffodil growing, your garden will bloom in no time.