A Beginner’s Guide to Growing Daffodils: Everything You Need To Know

Traditionally seen as one of the heralds of spring, daffodils are considered a great burst of color and life after the long days of winter. 

They are a great relief, a sign that the days are about to get longer, the temperatures are slowly creeping up, and your garden is coming back to life.

No planting scheme is complete without daffodils, whether you’re someone who prefers only a few to compliment or contrast other plants, or a whole sea of them.

Daffodils are a favorite of many gardeners, and it’s not hard to see why. They are easy to grow, require only a little maintenance each season, and they will come back year after year.

Fancy growing your own, but you don’t know where to start? Here’s everything you should know about growing daffodils. 

At a Glance: What You Should Know About the Daffodil

Daffodils encompass the complete Narcissus genus in the Amaryllis plant family, where they are sometimes known as narcissus, jonquil, or lent lilies. 

The name Narcissus comes from Greek myth, for a man who was completely admired for his beauty. He never returned anyone else’s advances. 

Instead, he fell in love with his own reflection staring back at him, and soon died, as he refused to do anything else. When he died, a narcissus flower grew in his place.

Most daffodils are spring-flowering, although you can get autumn-flowering types, too. 

It’s worth knowing that most types of daffodil, like many spring-flowering bulbs, need cold weather during winter in order to flower in the following year. 

If your area doesn’t get winters, or not ones that are cold enough, there are cultivars available that thrive in warmer climates, and these don’t need a cold snap in order to do so. 

These are labeled by zone, and those that are categorized zones 8 and above are perfect for warmer parts of the world.

How to Recognize a Daffodil

All daffodils are perennials, regardless of the type you go for. They can vary wildly in height, some reaching a compact size of 5cm, some to just under 50cm.

While you might picture a yellow or white trumpet-form flower when you think of a daffodil, there are many forms to choose from, as the daffodil is very easy to hybridize. 

There are flowers which are double-form, looking a little like popcorn with beautiful ruffled blooms, while others have a more classic shape. Some don’t have trumpets at all. 

Some flower singly, only producing one flower per flower stem, while other types can produce numerous clusters of tiny flowers. Daffodils come in yellow, pink, white, apricot, orange, or they can be a combination of these.

Most of the foliage will be stemless, growing to a maximum of 45cm long, though this will be much smaller on petite varieties. 

How to Grow Daffodils

Daffodils are available as bulbs more often than not, but you can also get them as plug plants or seeds. 

You can also get mixed bulbs which allows for longer flowering periods, containing a mixture of bulbs which flower at different times.

You can even get ‘mats’ of bulbs if you want a sea of color with the least amount of effort possible, and the only thing you need to do in this case is to dig to the right depth, lay the mat, and fill it back up with compost.

Can You Grow Daffodils From Seed?

You can grow daffodils from seed, but they do take much longer to grow than bulbs, and the process is a little more complicated than simply digging a hole and putting in a bulb.

Some people prefer the process of growing from seed. They might not exactly turn out exactly like the plant you collected the seed from, as unlike dividing bulbs, it’s not a copy of the original plant.

But that could be a good thing. You might create a new variety that is unique to your garden. But you’ll first need some daffodils in your garden. 

Let them flower, and let the tiny seeds dry in the flower before you pick them. 

There’s a fine line between leaving seeds to dry in the flower, and waiting too long until the seeds have dispersed. You’ll have to watch for them.

Once you’ve collected the seeds, plant them in a container of fresh compost, about half an inch below the soil’s surface. Keep the compost moist, warm, and somewhere bright.

It is worth knowing that it can take a couple of years for the seedlings to change into bulbs, so you’ll have to be patient, transferring them into a bigger container when necessary.

When and How to Plant Daffodil Bulbs

You need to plant daffodil bulbs in the autumn, preferably September, though you can wait until November. 

You need to plant them just before the cold of winter, as the temperature drop helps ‘wake’ the bulbs up, signaling it’s time to start growing. 

Most will flower well even if you plant them in October, but if you plant them in December, they will flower for a significantly less amount of time.

When it comes to planting daffodils in the ground, you can choose any spot you like. Just bear in mind that they do best in well-draining soil which has some nutrients, preferably somewhere sunny.

Some daffodil varieties do better in dappled shade than others, so if you do have a shady garden, check which varieties would be suitable, as these will give you better results.

Before you plant daffodils, it’s a good idea to dig over the soil. This will help stop any compaction in the soil, while introducing more air. It’s also a good time to get rid of any weeds.

To make planting daffodils easy, there’s a trick to help you get the right planting depth. Getting this right is important. If you don’t, the bulbs won’t flower.

Look at how tall the bulb is. You want to plant it as deep as three times its height. 

This is the same for planting daffodils in containers, though if you prefer, you can plant them less deeply in pots if you’re only doing so for a season. 

You will need to transfer them into the ground for the following year at the normal depth.

Once you’ve planted your daffodils, water the soil to make sure there’s no air pockets, and the bulbs have full contact with the soil. 

You shouldn’t need to water bulbs that are in the ground after the initial watering, until there’s a long dry spell during spring. 

When it comes to container planting, you will need to water them more often, as pots don’t retain water nearly as well.

Sunlight & Soil Needs

Daffodils need at least some sunlight for part of the day, though they will be at their best in full sun where possible. 

Some types do fare better than others in partial shade, so it is worth planning ahead if you want to plant daffodils under trees, shrubs, or somewhere darker.

Above all, the soil needs to drain well, otherwise the bulbs will rot if the soil is waterlogged consistently. 

Should You Deadhead Daffodils?

If you aren’t planning on collecting daffodil seeds, then it is best to deadhead spent daffodil flowers. Forming a seed head takes a lot of energy, energy that could otherwise be stored in the bulb to save for next year’s flowers. 

It also stops the garden looking more untidy than it needs to. Simply take off the dying flower heads from the stalk and put them into your compost or green waste bin. 

If you like the look of the seed heads, if you want them to spread by self-seeding, or you’re planning on harvesting the seeds, you could leave them on. This won’t cause any damage to the plant. 

Pests and Disease to Watch Out For

Daffodils aren’t usually troubled by pests or disease, but there are a few exceptions. It’s often when the conditions aren’t right for the daffodils that you’ll see problems appear.

Unfortunately, slugs and snails love to snack on the daffodil. You can help deter them by using a dilution of garlic water around your daffodils and other vulnerable plants to keep them away.

Narcissus bulb fly can be an issue, and bulb flies can also affect other bulbs such as iris and scilla. To help prevent these, check that bulbs are dry and firm before you buy them, and only source them from trustworthy sellers.

You can also help stop them by covering bulb sites with insect-proof netting from May until June, which is when the female flies search for bulbs to lay their eggs into.

If the soil doesn’t drain well enough, daffodils are vulnerable to rot. If the earth in your garden is consistently wet for most of the year, consider growing bulbs in containers instead.

You may do everything right, but some daffodils may only grow foliage instead of flowers. If this is the case, it’s probably time to divide them.

How to Divide Daffodils

Daffodils need dividing every few years. This is because they have a clumping growth habit, where they form more bulbs which are closely packed together. When there are too many bulbs, the bulbs will stop flowering.

Make sure to do this in the autumn months, when any daffodils have died back for the season. Dig around the bulbs to loosen the soil without cutting into them, and lift them gently from the soil with a garden fork. Brush off any excess soil.

Once you can see the clumps, separate any bulbs that come away easily. Tiny bulbs should be left in a clump with bigger ones, as they’ll separate naturally over time.

Get rid of any bulbs that are squishy when you squeeze them, as these have rotted. Replant the bulbs immediately. 

You can replant them elsewhere if you want daffodils in different places in your garden, but they will fare better the sooner you put them back into the soil.

How to Use Daffodils in Your Own Garden

Daffodils work well as part of any garden scheme you can think of. There are many ways to really show them off, and here’s just a few to get you started.

Daffodils tend to work best in larger groups. In huge beds or borders, only having a few daffodils can mean that these gorgeous flowers can get lost among the rest.

Planting them in groups – not necessarily the same type of daffodil – will help maximize their effect in your garden, providing a wealth of color and beauty into early spring.

Container Gardening

One of the best ways to show off daffodils is to plant them in containers, alongside other spring-flowering plants, such as bluebells. 

When planting in containers, using as many as you can possibly fit does look the best, but it will mean the plants have a shorter lifespan.

Under Large Trees or Shrubs

Daffodils provide plenty of color, which is great for those sparse areas under shrubs or trees. The soil usually drains well, too, because of the larger roots of the neighboring plants.

If you do go for this method, choose daffodils that will grow well in partial shade. Some varieties will grow naturally in woodland, so some types are better suited for this than others.

As part of a Grass Planting Scheme

Daffodils are perfect for planting in grass. As odd as that sounds, spring-flowering bulbs are perfect for grass planting, providing lots of rich color. 

If you do pick this method, use a stand up bulb planter, as this will save you an awful lot of time when it comes to planting daffodils. It saves you cutting up individual squares of grass.

The easiest and most natural-looking way to space the bulbs out is to get a bucket of them, and throw them into the grass. Plant them where they land, and this will provide a natural-looking planting scheme.

Daffodil Cultivars You Should Grow At Least Once

Narcissus ‘Albus Plenus Odoratus’

One of the most fragrant varieties you can get, ‘Albus Plenus Odoratus’ is a double-bloom variety, featuring striking white flowers without the usual trumpet. 

This cultivar reaches a nice height of 30cm, and it’s perfect for adding color and fragrance into your spring garden.

Narcissus ‘Avalon’

Normally, when you think of a daffodil, you might picture a flower with a yellow trumpet and white petals, or yellow petals with a yellow trumpet.

‘Avalon’ is a very unusual variety as it features sunshine-yellow petals and a bright white, ruffled trumpet. 

Narcissus ‘Carice’

A fairly new cultivar, this is a lovely smaller daffodil which boasts ivory petals and a salmon pink trumpet.

It’s perfect for areas which are in light shade, though it will tolerate full sunlight, too.

Narcissus ‘Grand Soleil d’Or’

A very uplifting variety, ‘Grand Soleil d’Or’ produces rays of clustered bright yellow and orange flowers, several per stem. 

You can grow this variety indoors or outdoors. When planting outdoors, you do need to give it somewhere sunny and protected, as free-draining as possible.

Narcissus ‘Ice Wings’

Featuring pure white flowers in a nodding form, ‘Ice Wings’ looks like a very delicate plant, but it will come up year after year. 

Each flowering stem can produce up to three flowers at a time. 

Narcissus ‘Peach Cobbler’

One of the most attention-stealing cultivars out there, ‘Peach Cobbler’ is a double-blooming variety, producing a fantastic blend of white, cream, ivory, and gold. 

Narcissus ‘Polar Ice’

One of the brightest-white flowering daffodils out there is ‘Polar Ice’. The outer petals are huge, surrounding the much  smaller, ruffled trumpet, which is pale white or green.

Narcissus ‘Toyama’

‘Toyama’ is an unforgettable daffodil variety, featuring citrus-yellow flowers with double trumpets.

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