August 2013 Newsletter - Daffodils - Harbingers of Spring
Don't you just love Daffodils? With their nodding heads in yellow and white. Daffodils are considered our most popular flower -- more popular even than the rose. Some say they are the ideal perennial, growing in all but the hottest and coldest zones (Zones 2,3 and 10). They are easy to grow - are drought resistant, except in spring, will grow in most any reasonably fertile soil, are pest-free and rodent-free. And they are perennials, faithfully coming back and spreading year after year. What more could you ask?
But do you call them Daffodils, Narcissus or Jonquils? What exactly is the difference? "Narcissus" is the Latin word for the genus of these plants of the Amaryllis family. Despite widely held opinions, the terms are interchangeable. "Daffodil" is the common name for all member of the genus Narcissus. Another name that's used often, especially in the South, is "Jonquil," but Jonquils are but one of the divisions of Daffodils, Jonquilla, but some use the word Jonquil to refer to all types of Daffodils.
Narcissus was a Greek god who admired his reflection in a pond so much that he fell in and drowned. Also from the Latin root is the word narcotic. The bulb of the Narcissus contains an alcaloid which if eaten produces quick death. However, there's not much risk of anyone accidentally ingesting a daffodil bulb, as the taste is extremely sharp and will burn your mouth before you get a chance to ingest enough to kill you.
Daffodils grow from bulbs, and bulbs are little food factories. There are 12 Divisions of Daffodils, but I won't get into each Division. Among the thousands of commercially available Daffodils, there is an amazing range of shapes, sizes and colors available. Heights from 3" to 20", colors from the familiar yellow and white, to pink, orange, salmons and reds. Flowers from 1 to 3" across.
Daffodils are easy to grow which is part of the reason they are so popular. Except for the Tazettas (Paperwhites - which grow wonderfully outside in the South), they are extremely hardy and can be left in the ground through the winter. However, they do need some chilling, so most varieties are more suitable for northern climes. Some Daffodils can be forced indoors, especially the Tazettas, more commonly known as Paperwhites. See our previous newsletter on Forcing Paperwhites for Christmas Bloom.
When to Plant
Plant Daffodils in the Fall when the ground (not the air) temperature is below 60, usually around the time the trees begin to lose their leaves. Once planted, they will begin to put out roots. This process starts in the fall and continues in early spring and practically ceases during the summer dormancy. You might wonder how you will find the Daffodils you've planted in the fall to fertilize (or to add more bulbs to an area). I like to plant muscari (Grape Hyacinths) on top of my bulbs to mark the area, as they put out their foliage in the Fall.
Where to plant
Most Daffodils prefer full sun. Daffodils can be planted in formal or informal garden beds, beneath the canopy of deciduous trees (which will shed their leaves in fall), in rock gardens (especially the minis such as Jack Snipe or Baby Moon), in the grass or even in containers for forcing.
How to plant
First of all, plant as soon as receiving. A good rule of thumb is to plant any bulbs to a depth of 3 times the height of the bulb. In the South you should plant a little shallower. Plant nose up. An ordinary bulb planter works okay if you're just planting a few bulbs. But if you're planting many bulbs you'll do best with a heavy-duty foot bulb planter (usually with a steel frame). Or for smaller bulbs you can use a trowel and the "stab and pull" method. Stab the soil to a depth of around 3", pull the soil towards you to make a hole and put the bulb in. Stab the soil again a few inches away, covering the first hole and creating the second hole. You can even buy fancy augurs to attach to your power drill.
A good rule of thumb is: it's not necessary in the Summer, light in the Fall and Winter, and heavy in the Spring, but be sure not to overwater.
Mulching will certainly keep your bulb garden weed free. If applying a heavy mulch, you might want to pull it back in early spring so your bulbs won't have too much trouble poking through.
We think it's best to not put fertilizer in the hole when planting to avoid burning the tender roots. A top dressing of any slow-release fertilizer labeled for bulbs in the Fall and again in the early Spring should keep your bulbs healthy and blooming. There is no sense in feeding after they've bloomed.
Let the foliage die down naturally, don't tie or braid the leaves or they likely will not come back the next year. The bulbs need to store sufficient starches for next year's growth, and tying off or braiding the fading foliage suffocates the leaves and can cause fungal growth. Instead, it's best to have companion plantings that will hide the dying foliage. I like to use daylilies for this purpose, especially the Stella D'Oros, which bloom from early spring through fall. When the foliage has yellowed you can cut it back, assuming you've kept them well watered. This is usually 8 to 10 weeks after bloom. If planted in the grass, don't mow for at least a month after bloom.
Daffodils can be lifted every 5 years or so in late summer or early fall. You can tell your bulbs need dividing when they cease blooming in the center of a clump. They don't like to be moved, so they may not bloom the following year.
Can you grow Daffodils in the South? Yes, but... See our Recommendations for Growing Daffodils for the South page on our website, and for other bulbs that do well in the South, see our Bulbs for the South.
Here's an interesting tidbit I picked up from a wonderful book called Daffodils for American Gardens, by Brent and Becky Heath. "An interesting phenomenon with newly purchased bulbs is that they will often bloom one to two weeks later than bulbs of the same variety already in the ground." I often get questions about this - "Why aren't my bulbs blooming yet when all the others are?" Also, although we sell our fall-planted bulbs well into January, if you plant bulbs late they will bloom late or sometimes will abort this year's flower and bloom the following year.