University of Vermont Extension
Department of Plant and Soil Science
DAFFODILS FOR ALL GARDENS
Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont
I love spring-flowering bulbs and, of these, daffodils are my
favorite. Daffodils provide welcome and cheerful color after a long
winter, require almost no care, are quite hardy, and are avoided by deer and
most other mammals. Fall is the time to plant them for bloom next spring.
Daffodils can be grown in almost any garden, as long as it is not too
wet. Even there, they can be grown in better-drained raised beds, or
forced overwinter in pots. While they grow and bloom best in sun, they
will tolerate part shade (4 to 6 hours of direct sun daily) from deciduous
trees (those that lose their leaves in winter).
Daffodils require some cold in order to bloom, but there are cultivars
(cultivated varieties) requiring less cold for warmer climates. Or
gardeners in such climates can "pre-cool" the bulbs prior to planting.
Of course getting sufficient cold is not an issue in the north!
To "force" overwinter in pots, either in warmer climates or just to have
some early spring blooms indoors, simply pot bulbs in the fall. Place
three large bulbs in a pot six inches wide, with the bulb tips level with,
or just above, the rim of the pot. Keep moist, but not wet, in the
cool (around 40 degrees), such as in an old refrigerator or unheated
garage. Keep there for about 10 to 12 weeks. Just don't allow
bulbs to freeze. Remove from the cold after this period, water well as
growth starts, and you should see leaves, then blooms in a few weeks.
When planting outdoors in the fall, as with most other spring-blooming
bulbs, daffodils need about four to six weeks of warmer soil temperatures to
establish roots. This means the ideal time to plant is late September
to mid-October in the north, a bit later in milder climates. If you miss
this period though, it is still best to plant bulbs in the fall rather than
try to hold them until spring.
Plant with the bulb base about six inches deep below the soil surface.
Daffodils lend themselves to informal plantings, and so individual holes
randomly spaced. These may be made easily with bulb planting tools--
metal tubes on a handle. Place either bulb fertilizer, or a source of
phosphorus for root growth (rock phosphate is organic, superphosphate is
not) in the holes prior to planting. Just use a small amount in each
hole, perhaps a half teaspoonful, and then some soil so the bulb isn’t
resting right on the fertilizer. Avoid bone meal as it will attract
skunks and other mammals which will dig up your bulbs!
Daffodils are a huge group, with about a dozen different classifications,
depending on height and type of flowers. Flowers consist of outer
petals (together called the "perianth"), and usually inner ones fused into a
tube (called the "corona"). If the corona is equal to or longer than
the petals, it is called a "trumpet." If it is shorter, it is called a
King Alfred was for years the standard yellow trumpet type. Others
you'll find more commonly now are Dutch Master, Golden Harvest, and
Unsurpassable. These have the typical golden yellow flowers, compared
to the all white flowers of Mount Hood, or the white petals and yellow
trumpet of Las Vegas and Bravoure among others.
The cup daffodils are further divided into small and large cups. If
the cups are at least one third the length of the petals, they are large cup
types. In this group are Accent (white petals, pink cup), Fortissimo
(yellow petals, red-orange cup), Ice Follies (white petals, lemon yellow
cup), and Carlton (yellow petals, yellow cup) for example. Small cup
types include Barrett Browning (white petals, orange cup), Flower Record
(white petals, yellow cup), and Ring of Fire (white petals, red cup).
Then there are the more exotic types such as the butterfly and double
daffodils. Butterfly types are those with the corona split and perhaps
ruffled in appearance. Berlin has yellow petals, orange center.
Orangerie has white petals and orange center. Rosado has white petals,
peach center. Sunnyside Up has white petals and light yellow center.
Double daffodils have double petals, double corona, or both. Golden Ducat (a
version of King Alfred) is a gold example. Replete has white petals and
orange center. Ice King has white flowers and yellow center.
Manly is yellow throughout.
Daffodil is the correct common name according to the American Daffodil
Society, with the name Narcissus referring to the scientific genus
name. Jonquil correctly refers to one species of daffodil.
Although most daffodils you'll find are hybrids such as the examples above,
there are individual species like the Jonquils that you may also consider.
One popular species is the Poet's daffodil -- an heirloom species,
having a very small yellow cup with red rim, and white petals. The Triandrus
species has two or more hanging flowers per stem, with petals pointed
backwards (reflexed) such as the white Thalia. The fragrant flowers of
Jonquilla daffodils don't hang and are clustered, the petals aren't
reflexed, and leaves are cylindrical. Jonquillas include the dwarf (5
to 6 inches high) Sun Dial or Sun Disc.
If plants have only one flower per stem, with reflexed petals, this is a
Cyclamineus type. They are often dwarf, such as the popular Jetfire
with its yellow petals and red-orange corona, or the popular Tete-a-Tete
with its golden yellow flowers, or Jack Snipe with white petals and
contrasting yellow corona. Geranium is a popular Tazetta hybrid, with
several flowers per stem, each white with red-orange cup.
If you thought daffodils were simply those yellow spring flowers, hopefully
now you see the variety among the hundreds of cultivars (cultivated
varieties) available. In fall you’ll find many for sale in garden
stores and even some chain stores. Sign up for catalogs prior to
spring for ordering even more variety then, through them or online.
Keep in mind when buying bulbs that they are graded according to size, and
priced accordingly. If all you want is a mix to plant randomly in the
landscape, or to "naturalize", then cheaper bulbs will suffice. If you
want a better show with more and larger flowers, especially of new hybrids,
you'll want to pay more for the larger bulbs. Consider planting
daffodils an investment which will multiply with little, if any, further
care for many years.
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