Daffodils are the classic flower of springtime, appearing in their full glory when most other plants are still coming round from their winter sleep. They're an incredibly easy way to enjoy early-season color, returning year after year with very little care or maintenance. Giving daffodils a good start is essential for encouraging their repeat displays.
Daffodils need to spend a winter in the soil to flower when spring arrives, so planting the bulbs in fall is the best choice — just be sure to get them in the ground before the first frost arrives. It's also important to plant your bulbs within a month of buying them, as they can dry out if not stored in the right conditions.
Daffodils have no strong preference for soil type so long as it's fertile, but they do best in a neutral or slightly acidic soil of around 6 pH. Even more important is that the soil drains well, as waterlogged bulbs will rot. Daffodils look best in uneven groups or semi-random clumps rather than in formal rows. One way to get natural results is to toss a few bulbs at a time onto the soil surface and sow them where they fall. The bulbs should be planted 6 inches deep with the pointed end upwards, covered with soil, and then watered in.
Daffodils are happiest in full sun, which means at least six hours of direct light a day. They also tolerate dappled shade, making them a good woodland choice, but they will usually produce smaller or fewer flowers.
Water daffodils throughout the growing season, keeping the soil moist but not waterlogged. Water well immediately after sowing the bulbs, and keep the soil moderately moist until the plant pokes through the surface in spring. From then on, water when the soil surface is dry, continuing until three weeks after flowering is over and the stems start to fall back.
Daffodils aren't greedy feeders, and any reasonably fertile soil will provide what they need. However, over time the soil can become depleted so adding fertilizer in spring can promote faster, healthier growth. Use either a balanced general-purpose fertilizer or one that's low in nitrogen, as excessive nitrogen levels will encourage the leaves to grow instead of the flowers.
Daffodils are suited to a wide range of hardiness zones, with most varieties growing between USDA zones 4 and 7. However, some varieties can go as low as zone 3 or as high as 8, so daffodils can be grown as far north as Alaska or Maine, and as far south as Arizona or Louisiana.
There's no need to prune healthy daffodils, although it’s a good idea to remove any damaged stems to reduce the risk of disease. Taking off dying flowers before they naturally drop will divert the plant's energy into bulb and root growth, producing a better display next spring. Don't cut back the stems or leaves too early; wait until they've turned yellow, or the bulbs won't be able to store energy for next year's regrowth.
Within their recommended hardiness zones, daffodil bulbs will survive the winter and can be left in the soil. Simply wait until all the stalks have died back or turned yellow, then cut or mow them down to neaten up your beds.
Daffodils will naturally create new bulbs over time, producing expanding clumps from a single plant. You can speed this up by gently lifting the bulbs once flowering is over but before the stems start to turn yellow. Dust off each bulb and look for small bulblets sprouting from the sides. These can be sliced off with a sharp knife and replanted straight away, and if all goes well you'll see a new plant when spring arrives.
Most of the diseases that afflict daffodils are related to wet, warm, and humid conditions. Fungal and bacterial infections are common when the soil is waterlogged, and they can also develop when the plant itself is wet for long periods. Common signs of infection include browning spots on the foliage, wilting or dropping leaves, and signs of mildew anywhere on the plant. To keep the infection risk low, water in the mornings only if the soil is dry a couple inches down. Water around the plant and avoid letting droplets or soil splash onto the leaves.
Daffodils are relatively unfazed by pests, although hungry slugs and snails may spoil the look of the plants. The narcissus fly is a more serious pest; it lays eggs around the base of the plant that hatch into larvae that burrow into the bulbs, often with fatal results. There's no treatment for infested bulbs. You’ll have to dig up the plants and remove them from your garden.
Daffodils can be used almost anywhere in a garden. They work well as edging plants between lawns and pathways, providing an early-season burst of color. They can also be grown in the dappled shade of a woodland area, although the flowering will be less prolific. Window boxes and pots make great alternative homes, especially if you choose a smaller dwarf variety, but in cooler locations containers will need to be brought indoors in winter to protect the bulbs. Wherever you plant them, using a mix of daffodil varieties will add a range of color and extend the flowering season.
Glory-of-the-snow is another spring bulb with similar foliage and clusters of small, trumpet-shaped flowers. This striking plant has a wider range of flower colors than daffodils, including violet and blue with contrasting white centers.
Daffodils contain toxins that can cause stomach cramps and severe vomiting. Most cases of daffodil poisoning are through accidental eating, often when the stems are mistaken for scallions or other vegetables. Wash your hands after cutting or handling daffodils, and consider growing them away from any vegetable patches, fruit bushes, and other plants destined for the kitchen.
Daffodils varieties are categorized by the shape of the flower head. The most common types include the typical trumpet variety, with a single flower per stem, and the double variety, with two or more. Triandrus daffodils have flowers that droop downward, while the Tazetta variety can produce up to 20 tiny flowers per stem. Daffodils are most commonly deep yellow, but white, orange, and dusky brown varieties exist, as well as some that mix several shades on each bloom.