Plant Study: Daffodils

  • Difficulty Rating: Beginner
Yellow Daffodils

Daffodils are easy to love— and they show your love, too.

Of all the gorgeous and reliable spring flowers, daffodils are my favorites. The flashing golden trumpets of daffodils draw you out into the garden in the bright, cool days of spring, and the show lasts for weeks.

Field of yellow daffodils

Daffodils grow from charming, crinkly brown bulbs, planted in fall, and establish themselves so naturally in gardens that even at abandoned homesteads on old country roads, daffodils come into bloom every spring, as though an old ghost might pop out at any minute to pick a bouquet. In your own back yard, daffodils are a rewarding investment, paying rich dividends once a year, every spring.

Young girl with daffodil arrangement

Daffodils were among the first flowers I learned to identify as a child. They were definitely the first blooms I picked for my mother every year. Even though I didn’t plant the bulbs myself, I quickly learned where the flowers would come up, and picked them with the great satisfaction of having anticipated their arrival. My mom accepted her annual daffodil bouquet with delight: perhaps she planted the bulbs, herself. I’ll never know.

White daffodil with tiny flat trumpet

Most people recognize the big yellow-trumpet daffodil when they see it, but they may not realize that the genus Narcissushas thousands of cultivars and many variations, including pure-white blooms, white flowers with orange trumpets, flowers with a hint of pink, and many dazzling blooms with ruffled and reflexed petals. Some daffodils have only a very tiny, nearly flat trumpet. Most are not especially fragrant, but some smell as sweet as honey.

Lemon Drops daffodil flowers

 

If you plant a variety of daffodil bulbs in the fall, you can rely on a bloom season that lasts for weeks — from the very cool days of early spring until the first rose buds start to show color. ‘Bridal Crown’ and ‘Winston Churchill’ are two of the last daffodils to bloom in my garden every year, and they are also among the most sweetly fragrant. After daffodils’ blooms have faded, the strappy foliage persists for a few weeks and should not be cut back: during this period, next year’s flowers are being formed in the bulb. In due time, the foliage dies down and disappears until the next spring.

Some gardeners plant daffodils with hostas, daylilies, or other perennial plants, so the flowerbed stays lush and colorful after the daffodils have faded. It is important to remember that daffodil bulbs will not tolerate soggy soil during their dormant period, so plant them in well-drained soil in an area that you do not intend to irrigate.

White daffodils with ruffled pink trumpets

The easiest way to plant daffodils in fall is with a sturdy spade (such as a Fiskars D-handle garden spade). Dig a hole about 10 inches wide and deep, and place half a dozen daffodil bulbs at the bottom. The planting goes quickly; you can easily dig enough holes for several dozen bulbs. Cover with soil, mulch with crushed autumn leaves, and water well. In spring, you’ll have plenty of flowers for a bouquet. Pick some for your mom: Why wait for roses, when daffodils come first?