If there were a contest for the easiest, most dependable, most adaptable spring bulb, daffodils would be the hands-down winner. They look terrific planted in formal bulb beds, planted by themselves, mixed with other bulbs and perennials, or naturalized in a woodland setting. Once established, most daffodil varieties will multiply quickly, providing a bigger, better display of color each year.
Name Your Daffodil
All daffodils are in the genus Narcissus. There are many different types of daffodils grouped by flower shape, number of flowers per stem, and their parentage. All make great cut flowers and many are fragrant. Some types are best planted in large drifts of color, while others are more delicate and well-suited to close-up viewing. Here are some of the most popular types:
Large-Cup and Trumpet: These daffodils are the ones most familiar to gardeners. The large flowers come in white, yellow, gold, orange and even pink. They are ideal for large, formal plantings. They bloom in early to mid-spring on stems 14 to 20 inches tall.
Small-Cup: These early to late-season bloomers feature flowers with small cups and petals on 14- to 18-inch-tall stems. They are attractive in formal settings as well as informal (naturalized) plantings, and make good cut flowers.
Double (and Split-Corona or Butterfly): These unique varieties have a cluster of petals at the center rather than a single cup. They typically grow on 12- to 16-inch-tall stems. The plush, multi-petaled flowers can sometimes get waterlogged and topple, so plant them in a protected location if you can. Because many of these varieties are fragrant, they make excellent cut flowers. The split-corona or butterfly group features a flat, full face with a split cup (or corona) that some say resembles a butterfly. Plants range from 14 to 18 inches tall, bloom mid to late, and are good for naturalizing a area or bouquets.
Multi-Flowered: These small-flowered, fragrant daffodils have several flowers per stem. They range in height from 12 to 16 inches; bloom times range from mid- to late season. Use them for naturalizing or mixing in a bed with other bulbs, such as grape hyacinths.
Where to Plant
Daffodils look best planted in clumps or large groups, either in beds or naturalized in your yard or garden. Consider planting them among spring-flowering shrubs, such as azaleas and rhododendrons. They're also nice among perennials, such as bleeding heart and primrose, as well as other perennial bulbs, such as grape hyacinths and early-blooming tulips. They are great companions for hostas and daylilies, which cover their fading foliage.
How to Plant
Daffodils should be planted once the soil cools, from late September into November. Plant them in full sun, where the soil is moist, but well-drained. Daffodils can also grow in part shade, especially in the shade of deciduous trees. Plant in groups of 10 or more bulbs, creating irregular shapes for a more natural look. Granular fertilizer can be mixed into the planting holes. Place the bulbs pointed-end up, at least twice as deep as the bulb is tall. Plant deeper in sandy soils and more shallow in clay soils. Keep the area watered if fall weather is dry.
Taking Care of Your Daffodils
Unlike many other bulbs, daffodils are not bothered by animals, such as deer, mice and voles. No special protection is needed. After flowering in spring, remove the faded flowers and the bloom stalk. Let the foliage turn yellow and die (this usually takes about four weeks). During this time, the plant will use its foliage to photosynthesize, producing the energy it needs to form next year's flower. If your daffodils are grown in the lawn, do not mow it until the foliage has turned yellow. For best results, fertilize your daffodils each year with granular fertilizer, applied in fall or early spring.
Daffodils that have been forced to bloom indoors can be planted outdoors in early spring. These bulbs may require two years of growing to replenish their energy and bloom again. Paperwhite narcissus are an exception: The bulbs should be discarded after they've finished blooming.