Sunday, March 3, 2013

Some of What I Know about Daffodils

I have been acquainted with Daffodils for my whole life. When I was a child, we had daffodils, lots of daffodils. Most of them had been there long before I was born.

One year my sister Mary wrote off for mixed daffodils advertised in the Sunday Paper by a reputable Atlanta nursery. She married and moved away to Florida soon after and Mama planted the bulbs to keep them from going to waste. They bloomed beautifully in the spring. The next fall she came back and dug as many as she could find. Mama didn't say a word about knowing daffodils suited to northwest Georgia not blooming well in Florida.

The next spring, almost as many daffodils as before came up and bloomed. Mama always said they'd gone to China and returned. Mary never mentioned whether her Daffodils bloomed or even if she ever planted the bulbs.

I've planted hundreds. Some are still here, still blooming. Some faded away after the first year.
There are any number of reasons daffodils decline.

(1) Cultivar. Some do better in the south than others. See #8.

Daffodil collage from a  previous year.

There's an old trumpet Daffodil that blooms here,  planted by my late SIL more than 40 years ago. I moved some of them when the clumps got crowded -- the ones I moved didn't like the sandy hill I planted them on.

Ice Follies is one of the best large cups that I plant when it comes to longevity.

Ice Follies, 2011

Some vendors sell a mixed bag labeled as 'for the South.' I've never ordered them. In the next post I'll address buying mixed bulbs and some other cultivars that I've found worth cultivating.

(2) Planting depth. Daffodils have roots that contract to pull them down in the soil. In sandy soil sometimes they pull themselves too deep and over time, stop blooming. Suggested planting depths on packages mean measured from the bottom of the bulb, not the tops.

(3) Drought. Sometimes they'll skip a year. I have some that I think are doing that, either from last year's drought in the fall or from lack of cold days when they were getting ready to come up and bloom last month during a warm spell.

Hawera, 2011

(4) Some do better in shade, some in sun. Maybe they're just not happy. 'Hawera' is one that likes shade. It's an old jonquilla often found on plantations in North Florida.

(5) In poor soil, they might indeed need fertilizer. Timing is important. Fertilizing with high nitrogen fertilizer as they come up to bloom may cause blooms to blast. Fall fertilizing means that the bulbs have fertilizer available when roots beging to form for spring bloom. Fertilizing while they are in bloom may rot the bulbs.

Daylilies help hide fading Daffodil foliage, 2009

(6) The tops were cut off before they died back. Green tops after bloom form the next year's bloom. Wait until they turn yellow and fall over, which is not attractive at all but necessary to next year's bloom.  I disguise those in flower beds with overseeded poppies and larkspur. If they're in a long bed near a walk, I put them behind daylilies whose emerging foliage hide the dying daffodil foliage, in the manner of the New York Botanical Garden's Daffodil and Daylily Walk? Where there is a large area of grass with daffodils for a daffodil hill on a slope, I just put construction tape and stakes around the area so He-Who-Mows recognizes that this area has to be left unmowed until the tops die. I plant with wide paths around and through the beds so it looks kempt. 

Daffodil Hill, 2011

(7) Disease and/or insects are not frequent but possible.
Sometimes you just have daffodils that are cranky. I moved 'Minnow' twice and they bloomed once in several years. 'Rip Van Winkle' just plain never bloomed, great foliage every year though.

(8) Lack of cold hours during the winter. Many daffodils in their native climate live through cold winters and dry summers. In the deep south zone 8b, I can't guarantee either. We plant in a windswept area and give the best drainage we can.

(9) Overcrowding. Daffodils also sometimes decline when new bulbs form and they get overcrowded. Digging and replanting is obvious for that event.

The best thing about Daffodils is the fragrance, often not mentioned by writers. Some are more fragrant than others. Jonquillas are sweet; doubles like Tahiti are spicy. Individual preference here determines which a gardener prefers.

Are you a fan of Daffodils?


  1. I am a fan of daffodils. Your comment about sandy soil probably explains why I never get many years of bloom from them in my Maine garden. -Jean

  2. Am a big fan of daffodils but have a small yard. Planted quite a few in pots for the nursery this last fall. Hoping they don't rot in the pots.

  3. A big fan! I like easy care plants and they certainly qualify. I haven't noticed much fragrance....may have to get some more that are.

  4. I love all of your daffys! I don't have very many, but I planted more this year and will continue each season. Love that you hide their dying foliage with the Daylilies. I also really like the Nicotiana I see in one of the pictures.

  5. Love it....I planted a ton of daffodils and if you want to know the truth, I don't think I have ever seen a real daffodil that I this will definitely be something new....but my first one looks like it is opening.

  6. I love daffs but unfortunately can't grow them down here in tropical s.e. FL. They make me feel happy and are a herald of spring.

    You have some wonderful ones.


  7. Flower Lady, if I lived where you do I would make an exception to the silk flower rule and buy faux daffodils and put in a vase, bringing them out for 3 weeks every spring.

  8. Hi Nell Jean,
    I enjoyed your post, even though some of it doesn't apply to where I live. I am pretty scatterbrained, and don't remember the names of the daffodils I planted, or how long ago it was that I planted them. LOL They come up every spring, and I know spring is almost here. I have some buds on one of my clumps, but wonder if the weather will allow them to develop and open. All I know is, I enjoy the few clumps that I have, and have decided not to plant more, because of how ugly the foliage looks as it is fading.

  9. Sue, Daffodils are pretty tough. I've seen them with blooms covered in ice and they were fine when the ice melted.

    Ripening foliage is unsightly, which is why I like to tuck a daylily in front of some daffodils to hide the foliage as the daylilies start growing tall, or let lantana cover it. It works here, but I don't know about in a northern garden. Many great ideas I see in California gardens won't work here because bloom times vary.

  10. I finally saw one bloom, I made my husband walk with me to see if it was open and it was....the beauty of being a beginner is how exciting everything seems to be!

  11. I certainly have some that have been nibbled from below...Tete-a-tete for one. It is slowly but surely trying to come back. I need to look for Ice Follies this the pale colors.

  12. In zone 7b (Raleigh), I've had my own share of disappointments and triumphs with daffodils - a mix especially for the south that I ordered from John Scheepers. As you said, some did well, others petered out. This year, I noticed what you pointed out - that they sometime skip a year, because of lack of cold or drought or whatever.


I look forward to comments and questions and lively discussion of gardening and related ideas.

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