Daffodils, along with tulips, are one of the most popular springtime bulbs. They are long-lived, bloom for weeks on end, aren’t bothered by deer, thrive both in the garden and in pots, are easy to plant, grow and care for, and offer astounding variety (there are over 25,000 registered cultivars!).

Narcissus ‘Pimpernel’ is a large cup daffodil with bold, two tone coloring. Photo by: Roger Foley.

Botanical Name:

Narcissus

Zones:

The majority are easy to grow where there is a discernable winter (Zones 4 to 8). Most cultivars can withstand the harsh winters of Zones 2 to 3, and many types (notably those in the divisions Jonquilla and Tazetta) can survive in warmer climates through Zone 9.

Bloom time:

Spring

Planting time:

In colder regions, plant bulbs in autumn after the first frost when the soil temperature is cooler but before it freezes. In warmer regions, plant after fall temperatures have become consistent and nights are cool.

Exposure:

Grow best in full sun and need plenty of light even after flowering. At least a half-day of sunlight is necessary to produce energy for next year’s bloom.

Height:

6 to 30 inches

Daffodils are recognized for their central cup surrounded by a ring of petals. The most common colors are white and yellow, but there are also some orange, pink and red varieties.

There are thousands of daffodils to choose from, including:

  • Modern hybrid daffodils breed to be tall and sturdy, with many flower shapes and colors
  • Antique or heirloom types that have been grown for generations
  • Smaller species daffodils (sometimes referred to as wild or miniature daffodils)

Those who grow daffodils for competition are even more precise and classify them into 13 divisions (see The American Daffodil Society). The ones most commonly grown in gardens are known as Large Cup daffodils and Trumpet daffodils.

Furthermore, some daffodils are excellent for naturalizing, some have striking double flowers, some are particularly well suited for the South and others have intoxicating fragrances.

When planted properly, daffodils are low-maintenance, reliable bloomers. Photo by: Roger Foley.

Soil:

Prefer well-drained soil where the bulbs can be relatively dry during summer when they are dormant. In heavier soil, it’s best to grow daffodils in raised beds.

Planting depth:

6 inches deep

Water:

Some moisture is needed in fall after planting, in spring when plants are actively growing (1/2 to 1 inch of water per week), and after they have finished flowering until their leaves begin to turn yellow.

Fertilizer:

Add bone meal when planting

Dividing:

If bloom quality and quantity degrade, dig up and divide clumps right after the foliage dies back.

Common mistakes:

  • Avoid planting in a spot that will get too wet—daffodil bulbs will rot if they sit in water
  • Cutting back the leaves before they turn yellow will stop the bulb from producing flowers next year
  • If you plant daffodils in an area that’s sunny in the fall but mostly shaded when the tree cover fills in, the bloom may suffer

Daffodils are often planted in drifts of like types and colors. Photo by: Roger Foley.

If you love daffodils, but aren’t sure how to use them in your garden, here are some suggestions:

  • Plant in groups of 10 to 100 each for bolder impact. If your planting is to be viewed from a distance, use bright yellows and oranges or plant light colors in front of darker, contrasting ones.
  • Plant daffodils on a bank or a hillside for a really showy display. Planting on a slope will also provide the necessary good drainage for the bulbs.
  • Include early, midseason and late daffodils to extend the season of bloom.
  • Brent Heath of Brent and Becky’s Bulbs, suggests layering daffodil bulbs among tulips, hyacinths, and muscari to create “living flower arrangements”.
  • Slip bulbs amid daylilies, heuchera, and hosta in smaller garden beds and those plants will grow up to cover fading daffodil leaves.
  • In open areas, let daffodils naturalize along meadows and fences, spreading their cheerful white and gold swaths for a host of springs to come.
  • Daffodils are well-suited to designs that mimic woodland settings.

Companion plants:


Daffodils can provide a defensive shield against hungry deer. Self-sowing annuals that bloom after daffodils can hide the yellowing foliage.

Try planting daffodils alongside these plants:

  • Magnolia trees
  • Tulips
  • Johnny jump-ups
  • Forget-me-nots
  • Daylilies
  • Crabapple trees
  • Creeping speedwell (Veronica peduncularis ‘Georgia Blue’)
  • Primula veris
  • Violas
  • Vinca minor
  • Lilies
Swipe to view slides

Photo by: Manfred Ruckszio / Shutterstock.com.

Narcissus 'Tête-à-Tête'
(Minature daffodil)

Zone: 4-8
Height: 6 to 9 inches
Bloom time: April

This miniature daffodil is popular for containers, but it also multiplies rapidly in naturalized areas.

Photo by: LianeM / Shutterstock.com.

Narcissus 'Thalia'
(Triandrus daffodil)

Zone: 3-8
Height: 12 to 18 inches
Bloom time: March-April

This daffodil produces 2 or 3 fragrant flowers per stem.

Photo by: sebastiano secondi / Alamy Stock Photo.

Narcissus 'Mount Hood'
(Trumpet daffodil)

Zone: 3-8
Height: 12 to 18 inches
Bloom time: March-April

‘Mount Hood’ has flowers up to 4 inch across that open creamy yellow, but quickly mature to ivory white.

Photo by: Rebecca McCree / Shutterstock.com.

Narcissus 'Tahiti'
(Double daffodil)

Zone: 4-8
Height: 12-18 inches
Bloom time: April

A winner of the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit, ‘Tahiti’ has elegant flowers and strong stems that hold up well in the wind.

Photo by: Popova Valeriya / Shutterstock.com.

Narcissus 'Dutch Master'
(Trumpet daffodil)

Zone: 3-8
Height: 13 to 18 inches
Bloom time: Early to mid spring

A classic daffodil good for naturalizing or forcing.

Photo by: Roger Foley.

Narcissus 'Modern Art'
(Large-cupped daffodil)

Zone: 3-8
Height: 14 to 16 inches
Bloom time: Midspring

Intense color, rounded overlapping yellow petals, and a doubled, almost tripled tangerine cup.

Photo by: Roger Foley.

Narcissus 'Sovereign'
(Butterfly daffodil, split-cupped daffodil)

Zone: 3-8
Height: 16 to 18 inches
Bloom time: Mid- to late spring

This gargantuan flower can measure 6 inches across. Bright orange, wavy, split corona against white petals.

Photo by: Roger Foley.

Narcissus 'Chromacolor'
(Large-cupped daffodil)

Zone: 3-8
Height: 12 to 18 inches
Bloom time: April

Intense dark coral-pink cup is striking against pure white petals.

Photo by: Roger Foley.

Narcissus 'Bravoure'
(Trumpet daffodil)

Zone: 3-8
Height: 18 to 24 inches
Bloom time: April

Its robust, smooth-textured flowers make this trumpet daffodil with its yellow stovepipe cup a terrific show winner.

Photo by: Roger Foley.

Narcissus 'Serola'
(Large-cupped daffodil)

Zone: 3-8
Height: 14 to 18 inches
Bloom time: Midspring

One of the most persistent and floriferous daffodils. Great perennializer. Sunproof color and great form. It holds its head up and looks right at you. Golden petals and reddish-orange cup.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Are daffodils poisonous?

Daffodils contain a toxic chemical that may cause digestive trouble. They taste so awful that most animals avoid them. However, if your pet does eat a daffodil bulb you should contact your veterinarian.

Should I dig and store my daffodil bulbs after they go dormant or leave them in the ground?

Daffodils are a very hardy bulb that can be left in the ground for years in most cases. There are only a few circumstances that warrant otherwise. Dig them up and store them if:

  • You live in a very warm climate and need to chill the bulbs in the refrigerator
  • You live in an exceptionally cold climate and are worried they won’t overwinter in the ground
  • You would like to plant the bulbs in a different spot next year
  • Your bulbs have become crowded and need to be divided
  • If the planting area will be wet during warm summer months, then remove and store the bulbs to avoid rot

Can I plant daffodil bulbs in the spring?

The ideal planting time for daffodils, and other spring-flowering bulbs, is during fall. Then they have all winter to acclimate and develop roots before blooming in spring. However, some gardeners have success planting, or rather transplanting, potted bulbs into their spring gardens. Look for plants with healthy green foliage and buds, but not blooms.

When is the right time to transplant daffodils?

Whether you’re transplanting daffodils to alleviate crowding or you simply want to move them to a new spot, the best time to do so is after they go dormant. Once the flowers fade, wait for the leaves to wilt, yellow and die off before digging up the bulbs. This should take approximately six weeks. During this time the bulb is storing energy and preparing for next spring’s bloom. Replant the bulbs immediately in their new location.

Is there a trick to naturalizing daffodils?

Here are some expert tips for creating a naturalized planting of daffodils:

  • Pick an area with good drainage and sunlight
  • Select daffodils that multiply quickly
  • Plant drifts of the same kinds and colors
  • Toss handfuls of bulbs about and plant them where they land
  • Choose varieties that flower at different times
  • Use a long handled bulb planter or special drill attachment to make the process faster

Two terms “naturalize” and “perennialize” are sometimes used interchangeably, but there is a subtle difference. Some bulbs will naturalize, meaning they will prosper and spread about the garden, forming natural-looking groupings. Others are considered good perennializers in that they will return reliably year after year, increasing their clump size over time but not necessarily moving farther out into the landscape.

PLACES TO SEE DAFFODILS

  • New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, NY
    Hundreds of thousands of daffodils and counting (the goal is a million) are planted throughout the garden.
  • Litchfield Daffodils, Litchfield, CT
    An 8-acre garden of daffodils dating back to 1941, managed by the Laurel Ridge Foundation.
  • Gibbs Gardens, Ball Ground, GA
    This stunning display features more than 20 million daffodils, making it the largest daffodil collection in the nation.
  • Gloucester Daffodil Festival, Gloucester, VA
    Check out the festival and attend a tour of Brent and Becky’s Bulbs at prime bloom time.
  • Tower Hill Botanic Garden, Boylston, MA
    Over 25,000 daffodils create a dramatic tapestry of color best viewed in late April and early May.
  • McLaughlin's Daffodil Hill, near Sutter Creek, CA
    Carpeted with approximately 300,000 bulbs, with thousands more added each year.

USING DAFFODILS IN ARRANGEMENTS

If you’d like to cut some of your daffodils and bring them indoors, here are some tips:

  • Pick daffodils that are just opening up, they will last longer in a vase
  • Let daffodils sit alone in water for 24 hours before combining them with other flowers
  • Pair with tulips, Leucojum, lily-of-the-valley, or bare branches
  • Combine daffodils from different divisions—try a trio of Tazettas, Trumpets and Doubles
  • Use milk glass, terra cotta pots or repurposed kitchen ware as a container

Check out these arrangements using daffodils, herbs and other spring flowers.

Related:
Bulbs for Your Garden
All-Star Spring Flowers

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