Growing Narcissus (Daffodils)
Harbingers of a new season, these spring-flowering bulbs light up the landscape. Glorious gold, lemon-yellow, and snowy white blooms are often accented with contrasting trumpets or centers and vary in height from two inches to two feet with flowers in elegant proportion. Easily grown, the majority of these bulbs are very tolerant of cold winters. Paperwhite Narcissus are hardy only to Zone 8, but are forced indoors in pots in cold climates during the winter months for their fragrant blooms. Many of the hardy varieties can also be successfully forced indoors. Many Daffodils can be grown throughout the South, except in regions that are frost-free, since cold temperatures are necessary for the formation of the flower buds.
Light/Watering: While Daffodils prefer full sun they will usually tolerate half-day shade, especially Cyclamineus hybrids such as 'Jack Snipe' and the Poeticus variety 'Actaea'. Those cultivars with orange, red, or pink cups generally retain deeper color when planted in a location that receives protection from the hot afternoon sun. Watering during the fall is essential for good root growth before the ground freezes in cold regions. Try not to water excessively in the summer months when bulbs are dormant.
Fertilizer/Soil and pH: Daffodil bulbs will not survive in soils that are wet, especially during the winter. Avoid low-lying areas where water gathers or where the snow is late to melt in spring. Plant bulbs at a depth three times their height. Daffodil bulbs appreciate deep planting in light soil. If your soil is heavy, try planting less deeply than we recommend, making up the difference with a layer of mulch on top. Plant larger or bedding-size bulbs 5-6 in. apart (4-5 bulbs per sq. ft.), smaller or landscape-size bulbs 3-4 in. apart (5 bulbs per sq. ft.), and the miniatures 3-4 in. apart (5 bulbs per sq. ft.). When planting, keep in mind that the blooms tend to face the prevailing direction of the sun; in a border viewed from the north, they will look away from you. Do not separate bulbs that are attached at the base; the smaller bulb (known as an off-set or a "daughter" bulb) should not be detached from the parent bulb before planting. The best time to fertilize is in the autumn, when the bulbs are sending out new roots. To make clumps of Daffodils easy to find, plant a few Grape Hyacinths (Muscari) amongst them; the Grape Hyacinths send up a bit of leaf growth in the fall. The next best time to fertilize is in early spring, just as the Daffodil foliage begins to push through the soil. We recommend using a granular slow-release fertilizer formulated especially for bulbs.
Pests/Diseases: Few if any pests bother Daffodils. The bulbs and foliage are poisonous to most insects and animals, including deer and voles. If you see vertical streaks in the Daffodil leaves, dig up the bulb and put it in the trash as it may be infected with a virus. Watch any surrounding Daffodils for symptoms as the virus is spread by contact.
Companions: Narcissus reach dormancy 6 to 12 weeks after flowering depending on weather and variety. The period between the end of flowering and the withering of the foliage is crucial to the future vigor of the plant. If you cut, fold, or braid the leaves before they have yellowed and collapsed, you may prevent the bulb from storing the energy required to bloom the following year. You can hide curing foliage by interplanting bulbs with leafy perennials such as Hostas, Daylilies, and Ferns or with annuals or ground covers like Brunnera or Vinca. If you plant the bulbs in a lawn, do not mow the grass until the bulb foliage begins to yellow. Daffodils do well under deciduous trees, but avoid planting under evergreens and in areas where large roots are close to the surface.
Dividing/Transplanting: The best time to move or divide bulbs is when their foliage has withered, signaling the end of active growth. Lift them with a digging fork or a spade, taking care to avoid injuring the bulbs, and replant them immediately at the same depth and about three times their diameter apart. Water well.
End of Season Care: Remove dried up foliage after it has died down completely. A mulch of evergreen boughs after the ground freezes may help plants stay dormant if warm periods occur during the winter months.
Calendar of Care
Early Spring: Fertilize now if you missed the fall opportunity.
Late Spring: Water if the season has been dry, and deadhead as needed. Watch for vertical lines in the foliage and remove and destroy any bulbs showing signs of viral infection.
Summer: Try not to overwater in areas where Daffodils are planted. Allow foliage to cure naturally without intervention.
Fall: Use a granular slow-release fertilizer to feed Daffodil bulbs now. Gently lift and divide clumps of bulbs now. Plant new bulbs and include a few Grape Hyacinths to mark the planting spot. Remove dead foliage, and mulch with evergreen boughs after the ground has frozen. Water bulb plantings thoroughly through the fall if rain is scarce.