It’s time to buy daffodils. You don’t need to plant them just yet—we have several more weeks to do that chore—but you’ll get your best selection in the stores now and you can still order them by mail from a number of catalogues. I’m daft about daffodils, the heralds of spring. I plant more each year even though the ones I put in last year and the years before settle in and repeat bloom. Daffodils “naturalize” well in our climate if you keep a few simple things in mind when you plant them. And, the squirrels won’t eat them! (You shouldn’t either—they’re toxic).
First—they must have sun. Daffodils in shade may bloom the first year you plant them because their flower embryos were established in the farmer’s field they came from, but they will not come back well without lots of sun. So limb up those evergreens and let the light in if you want daffodils to stay.
Second—they hate wet feet in summer. While they don’t mind water in the winter, they don’t want to sit about in mud during the summer while they are forming new flower embryos and going dormant. A deep, sandy root run suits them well. They will do best if they can get very dry by July. In fact, if you must plant them in an area that is irrigated heavily all summer, put them in gallon pots sunk in the soil and remove the pots to a dry place when the flowers fade. This is more work than planting in the ground, but it may save your bulbs.
Third—don’t be in a hurry to clean up the dying foliage after the bloom season is over. Daffodil leaves must rot in place in order to form next year’s blooms. Compulsively tidy gardeners just can’t stand to see those mounds of half-shrivelled leaves and prune them away or try to tie them up in neat bundles. When you plant daffodils in grass, you won’t be able to mow until July at the earliest. This is another reason to grow daffs in pots. I have better luck if I let the old growth get completely yellow and dry so that it pulls off easily. You may, however, deadhead the seed pods up at the top of the flower stems. This stops the plant from expending effort on growing seeds and channels its energy to blooms for next year.
Fourth—mass the bulbs. Don’t just put one here and another lone soul over there. Daffodils like to be with their own kind and you get a much better show when you plant them in drifts. As they naturalize and fill in, they expand their clumps slowly sideways. I have not had to lift and divide the ones that grow in my sandy soil. Some of those clumps have bloomed faithfully for more than thirty years without much attention from me. I weed and mulch the beds each year and I put down some bone meal or other slow-release organic fertilizer. Then I let the bulbs do what they want. Easy? You bet!
Finally, don’t obsess about names for this flower. While all daffodils are Narcissus, not all narcissus are daffodils. Some are Paperwhites to force indoors. Some are the tiny, exquisite species like the Hoop Petticoats. Some have multiple blooms per stem. Many have fragrance. Their colors are oranges, yellows, creams, whites and blush pinks. In sum, this is a large and fascinating group of bulbs to grow in borders, rockeries, meadows and containers. Take a look at your garden. I’m sure you can find a place for a few more daffodils. I know I can.
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