Gardening Advice: Grow Daffodils

Gardening Advice: Grow Daffodils

November 19, 2002

Q: I've just moved to zone 8, and I've heard that it's hard to grow daffodils where the ground doesn't freeze. But I've also been told that certain varieties will do okay. Are there special varieties I should look for? Would planting them in a little shade or on the north side of the house help?  Ruth LaFavore, Baton Rouge, LA 

A: There are three types that are dependable in your area and even farther south, into zone 9: cyclamineus, jonquilla, and tazetta. That gives you about 100 varieties to choose from, and that's not too bad.

Daffodils (narcissus) are classified into numbered ''divisions'' primarily on the basis of flower type. You'll see these terms in most bulb catalogs. Cyclamineus is classified as Division 6; it has racy, swept-back petals, as if they had been in the wind too long, with just one flower per stem. Jonquilla varieties (Division 7) have one to five flowers per stem and very narrow leaves. Tazettas (Division 8) tend to have the most flowers, anywhere from three to as many as 20 per stem. You can also take a chance on any that is listed as ''early.'' These early varieties tend to do better in the South. One of the older large-cupped varieties (Division 2), 'Carlton', has done as well as any in the region.

Where you plant these bulbs is probably key to your success. What's most important is not shade but a lack of moisture. (It's not the heat, it's the humidity!) When dormant, all daffodils like to be in very well-drained soil. If the ground stays wet, the bulbs are extremely prone to rot. The higher the soil temperature, the worse the problem.
You will do best if you plant your daffodils in raised beds, on higher ground, or perhaps where a roof overhang will divert some of the rainfall. Drought-tolerant companion plantings are ideal because they help keep the ground even drier. Unlike in the North, where people plant daffodils in perennial beds or naturalize them in the lawn, in zone 8 and southward, don't place them among plants you have to irrigate in the summer. And keep sprinklers far from your daffodils.

One other factor that southern daffodil fanciers need to keep in mind is that most daffodils require a cool period in the winter. We're not talking severe cold or prolonged periods; two to three months when the nights go below 40°F is sufficient. In your area, a lack of winter chill should not be a problem. And all the varieties I've mentioned have chill requirements at the lesser end of the range. In the warmest areas, the tazettas are the best bet. Some of them, the kind commonly called paperwhites, have no chill requirement at all. But be careful about placing them — even those bulbs can't withstand wet soil when they are sleeping.