If you plant no other bulbs, plant daffodils. Daffodils are one of the first plants to emerge in the spring with their bright yellow or white blooms. They require little care from you beyond the initial planting, and will happily keep blooming for 30 years or more. They’re also deer and rodent resistant. How many plants can you say that about?
If you’ve never planted daffodils before, buy a few at your local nursery or garden center. Buy them in early fall for the best selection, and choose bulbs that are large and heavy with firm skins and no signs of decay.
Whether you call them daffodils, narcissus or jonquils, they are all come from the genus Narcissus. Daffodils come in hundreds of varieties, from classic large-cupped yellow daffodils to miniature hybrid jonquils that produce as many as six flowers on a single stem. Plant a mass of one kind or add several varieties to your spring bulb collection.
Trumpet daffodils produce one flower per stem with a large, yellow cup. These are what most people consider the “classic” daffodil. Small-cupped daffodils have a short, somewhat flat cup that may be yellow, white or salmon. Double narcissi produce blossoms with more than one row of petals. These plants are highly fragrant and may be multi-colored. Tazetta narcissi usually have many small blooms on one stem. Paper whites used for forcing indoors belong to this group.
Site Selection for Planting Daffodil Flowers
Plant daffodils at least three weeks before the first expected frost so they can develop strong roots before the ground freezes. Choose a site for your daffodils that receives at least six hours of sunlight per day. The front of a shrub or perennial bed is an ideal site, but avoid the northern side of your home or under evergreen trees. Daffodils grow and bloom before deciduous trees leaf out in the spring, so planting them under these trees is fine.
Daffodils thrive in sandy to slightly heavy soil, but they’ll rot if planted in wet, heavy soil. They don’t like wet feet during the summer, either, so plant them among shrubs or perennials that require minimal watering.
Amend poorly-draining soil with compost, peat moss or manure, or grow daffodils in pots or raised beds. Even if your soil is light and fertile, daffodils will perform better if you prepare the bed before planting. Dig the entire area to a depth of 12 inches, incorporating 1 lb. of low nitrogen fertilizer, such as a 6-24-24 formula per 100 square feet of garden space.
Dig holes 6 to 8 inches deep and spaced 6 to 12 inches apart in your newly prepared bed. Place 1 tbsp. bulb fertilizer in the bottom of each hole, mixing it with the soil. Drop one bulb in each hole with the pointed nose up. Daffodil bulbs look a bit like small onions. The hairy, flat side is the bottom; the pointed side is the top.
Cover the bulbs with soil, gently tamping down and water thoroughly. Mulch with 2 to 3 inches of wood chips or bark to conserve moisture and regulate soil temperatures. Water occasionally during the winter if the weather is dry.
Fertilize bulbs when they first emerge in spring with a handful of bulb fertilizer. Remove the flowers, but leave the dead foliage in place until it is yellow and crisp. Removing this foliage too soon will result in fewer blooms the following spring.
Your daffodils will multiply each year and eventually require division. Dig them up every five to eight years, as growth lags and blooms decrease. Split the bulbs gently and replant them for a more vibrant, larger display.
For Further Reading on Growing Daffodil Flowers