This is the third Garden Notes in the Daffodil series and advises on the "how" of selecting and growing daffodils in the Texas Panhandle. The first article in the Daffodil series explores to a certain extent the "why" of the daffodil's popularity throughout history, The World's Most Popular Spring Flower -- Daffodils. The second Garden Notes in the Daffodil series describes the "what" -- about the governing bodies, classification system and coding, Daffodil Organization. (Photo at left 'Stainless Steel' and 'Thalia' daffodils precede Apeldoorn tulips just beginning to bloom.)
Daffodils are true perennials that often come back year to year for many years (depending on suitability to your climate). Many species grow in cool climates with ample moisture from winter to summer. I had previously thought of them as more of a drought tolerant plant. However, the Scilly Isles and Cornwall in Great Britain are considered good climates for daffodils, a climate moderated by the sea -- mild, moist, and blustery at all times of the year.
Given the diverse range of the various narcissus species, there are cultivars for many different climates. Other wild species require hot summers and ample moisture the rest of the year, but not boggy or soggy soil. Many sources recommended providing ample moisture through the winter and spring for best results and drier conditions during the summer months is better.
There is a daffodil that will grow in nearly every area of the continental United States, so diverse and variable are they. Additionally, daffodil bulbs are deer, rabbit, squirrel, mole and vole proof. As noted earlier, daffodils from the Trumpet Division require cooler summer temperatures and may not return in hot Texas Panhandle gardens, especially when planted in full sun. And some triandrus daffodils, Division 5, might die out, as they prefer acidic, moist soils. However, the triandrus cultivar Thalia, called the “Orchid Narcissus” an heirloom from 1916, does well in many gardens year to year. Additionally, daffodil bulbs grown in boggy or overly wet soil can die from bulb rot.
Daffodils are a hardy bulb, able to survive extremely cold temperatures under ground, and even after their leaves emerge in late fall, and winter. Buds and flowers can take a freeze. I don't know at what exact stage the buds will freeze. I've covered buds for temperatures as cold as -10° and have them survive to bloom in their time. I also have some buds freeze when uncovered and temperatures drop into the teens. This March, in a late winter blizzard, clumps of daffodils in bloom were buried under 6+ inches of snow, only to emerge in several days upright and in full flower. Remarkable! (Golden trumpet daffodils shine after a snow at right.)
My earlier article about daffodils listed the thirteen divisions, but in summary, daffodils in Division 1 and 6, the trumpets and cyclamineus cultivars, bloom early spring; and daffodils from the Division 3 and 9, small-cupped and poeticus daffodils bloom the latest with the others in between (see chart below at the end). In the Texas Panhandle, daffodil cultivars can begin blooming as early as late February and into the end of April, depending on the weather and location. Typically, however, from early March through mid-late April.
Daffodils are about as easy as it gets for a flower that will return year after year (for the most part). Daffodils are not particular about soil, except for good drainage, and always benefit from well amended soil (although not raw manure just prior to planting the bulbs). Bulbs should be watered in fall, with regular moisture from early spring on as leaves begin to emerge and grow, for best flowers. Little more is required than a sunny or a partial shade location under deciduous trees and average garden soil. If the location is too shaded, they may come up “blind”, meaning no flower. Pink and red colored daffodils are best planted where they’ll enjoy afternoon shade, to keep the color from fading. (Photo at left, a bed of daffodils shortly after a heavy snowfal. The next day, they bounced back all the way up.)
Well amended soil is a plus, but not heavy in nitrogen, which causes excessive leafy growth and no flowers. Adding a half inch of compost spring and fall is recommended. Although some daffodils prefer acidic soil (Div. 5 Triandrus) most will do fine in the Texas Panhandle’s alkaline soil as long as it’s amended for organic content and drainage. Having adequate drainage is important, as soggy and boggy soil will lead to bulb rot.
After flowering, some gardeners recommend snipping the top of the flower stalk to prevent it from going to seed. Most cultivars today will not produce viable seed. Deadheading does make the bed appear neater. Information on whether pollen from a particular cultivar is fertile could be found on DaffSeek, such as the example of 'Bell Song', which does have fertile pollen.
One thing you must do is let the leaves die back naturally, untied and un-curled. Continue with regular moisture during this period. Daffodil bulbs must have a minimum of six weeks to amass energy for the formation of next year’s flower. Only when the leaves have yellowed or died should they be cleaned away. If you must dig up bulbs at this point, wait until the leaves have yellowed. The bulb will continue to form next year’s flower for two more weeks.
At this point, you should lift the bulbs, when dividing or moving clumps. It is best to replant them immediately in their new location, but can be stored until fall for replanting. Daffodils are different from tulips as they begin root growth early, in early autumn when the weather cools. “At this time, there is a change in the chemistry of the bulb, which produces chemicals that act as an anti-freezing agent, enabling them to survive soil freezing.” (Kingsbury, Daffodils.)
If the unkempt appearance of dying bulb leaves bothers you, the gardener is advised to plant a late spring perennial at the front of the clump to disguise the leaves. Really, in spring time, I’m so busy in the garden, I barely notice. Having said that, I have moved daffodils and hyacinths to a different area when leaf dieback bothers me sufficiently. One of my personal criteria for selecting most bulbs is the thickness of the leaves. Jonquils, with their thinner, rush-like leaves, seems to disappear from sight faster. ('Geranium' cultivar at right.)
Planting daffodils or other bulbs in grass does not seem practical to me for the average size residential garden, given the six weeks one must wait to mow after flowering, and the excessive amounts of nitrogen that is laid down for turf. If you have a swath of trees or shrubbery or meadow only mowed in the fall, do plant daffodils.
Daffodil Pests and Diseases
For the home gardener, daffodils are remarkably pest and disease free, especially in areas where few daffodils are grown. Only a few insects and nematodes are able to withstand the alkaloid that is in all parts of the daffodil. For large scale commecial growers, several problems can afflect them. Over a hundred years ago, growers in Britain lost hundreds of acres to a microscopic nematode, or eelworm. Other pests are the narcissus bulb fly, basal rot caused by a fusarium fungus, and some viruses. If, when digging up an old clump of bulbs, you notice a soft neck, a B-B size hole, or a small, shiny white offset near the base, you would have a maggot problem. This could mean the maggot of a bulb fly has infested it. Dig out the maggot from that bulb and destroy it, and check all others in the clump, discarding any of the infested bulbs.
To prevent basal rot by the fusarium fungus, good cultural practices are important -- good soil drainage, and in warm climates, planting in summer shade. Do not replant bulbs for several seasons in areas when fusarium fungus was detected. Viruses spread by aphids can cause discoloration or variegation of the leaves. Dig out and dispose of these bulbs. Thankfully, most bulb growers are consciencious in selling good quality, disease-free bulbs. Most home gardeners will never encounter these problems, especially with good cultural practices. (Heath, Daffodils.) The American Daffodil Society provides a more in-depth discussion of daffodil pests and diseases here. (Photo at left is an unknown, large-cupped pink cultivar from a friend's garden.)
The United States ranks third in daffodil production, behind Great Britain, which has from the beginning of the daffodil cult, been the world’s leader in not just production, but breeding new cultivars. In the United States, the center of the bulb breeding and production industry is in Washington, Oregon and northern California and are mainly for the cut flower trade. The cool, damp spring and dry summer climate of the Pacific Northwest favors daffodil production. However, most of the bulbs offered for sale in the United States are grown in Great Britain and the Netherlands.
New bulbs purchased from abroad will often bloom one to three weeks later in the first year, than bulbs of the same variety one might already have in ground. Summers are cooler in the Netherlands and Great Britain where the commercial bulbs are grown, therefore maturing later. (Heath, Daffodils.) (Photo at right, a grouping of daffodils from a friend's garden.)
The number of blooms by a daffodil bulb is determined by the size of the bulb, officially measured in centimeters. The largest size is a #1 grade double-nose, then #2 double-nose, sometimes referred to as topsize or bedding size, but these are unofficial terms. The third size is #3 rounds, referred to as landscape or naturalizing size.
Daffodils in the different divisions have specific sizes for the grades. An example, for trumpet, large-cup, doubles and split-corona daffodils, #1 double-nose are 20-24 cm (2 ½ - 3”); #2 double-nose would be 16-20 cm (2 - 2 1/2”), and grade #3 rounds are 12-18 cm (1 ½ - 2 1/4”). Small-cup, triandrus, cyclamineus, jonquilla, tazetta and poeticus daffodils are smaller: #1 double-nose 16-20 cm; #2 double-nose 14-16 cm. and #3 rounds are 10-16 cm. (Heath, Daffodils.)
Daffodils propagate mostly by seed and slowly by natural bulb increase and dividing. In theory, each year the bulb is in the ground, it doubles, growing from 1 to 2 bulbs in the first year, 2 to 4 in the second, 4 to 8 in the third until about the sixth year when, again in theory, the single bulb would have multiplied to 64; the multiplying slows or stops due to a lessening of “sunlight, air, and nutrients.” (Heath, Daffodils.)
Seed propagated plants will vary from the parent plants. A daffodil flower is visited by a bee and the pollen transferred to another plant of the same or different species or cultivar growing nearby. The seeds drop near the parent plant, rather than being dispersed in the wind. However, most cultivars are sterile and will not produce seeds. Species daffodils and some hybrids will bear fertile seed. From seed to flower takes from five to seven years. If you have the patience and space, join the society of breeders and enjoy the wonders of developing a new cultivar.
In bulb dividing, the bulbils, or daughter plants, will always be identical to the parent. The young bulbils will take two to three years to mature enough to flower. In addition to propagating by seed or waiting on the natural increase of bulb dividing, new methods of twin-scaling, chipping and micro-propagation (tissue and meristem culture) speed the process considerably. (Photo at left is a nice grouping of miniature daffodils.)
Growing bulbs in any quantity takes time. “From a single bulb, it would take approximately 16 years to produce 1000 new bulbs/bulbils by natural means (offsets). Twin-scaling, on the other hand, would take six to seven years to achieve 1000 offspring whilst micro-propagation would achieve 1000 offspring in a little over a year. (Willis, Yellow Fever.) An in-depth explanation of twin-scaling and micro-propagation techniques can be viewed online in Willis’ Yellow Fever.
With over 30,000 registered cultivars, only a small percentage are available to purchase. Still, one might be able to order from 300 different cultivars from catalogs or websites. How does one choose? I’ll admit to, at first, buying discounted bags of daffodils off the racks in years past as an after thought. Looking at them months later in the springtime, eight or ten randomly planted in a single clump looked just like that – an afterthought. Now, I’ll only buy a discounted bag if it’s a cultivar I would really like to have, and in larger quantities. ('Thalia' and 'Ringtone' with a fritillary in photo at right.)
Knowing the random approach I’ve given to choosing and growing of daffodils has given me much encouragement, as many of the daffodils have thrived. Daffodils are versatile! And if it’s one flower we need in our climate, it’s a versatile one. They are surely one bulb worthy of heavy investment for years of springtime enjoyment.
As I’ve driven around several neighborhoods in Amarillo this spring, It struck me how few people have planted daffodils, at least in their front gardens. They can be planted deep, with other perennials nearby that would not in the least interfere with one another. (Grouping of yellow trumpet daffodils in a neighbor's front garden at left.)
Daffodils are a flower that entices one to collect. It’s tempting to plant a dozen or so of many cultivars. As I’ve been studying daffodils and consequently observing what I’ve planted in previous years in my garden as they emerge and flower this spring, I will in the future take the “studied” approach to selection and planting location. Many cultivars are bred and propagated for connoisseurs for exhibition and shows, rather than for the garden. Many show winners can be great garden daffodils; again, often you will find that noted in catalog descriptions. Noel Kingsbury, in his book on daffodils, mentions that Brent and Becky’s Bulbs focus on daffodils that will have good garden quality.
I’ve been deliberating which daffodils I’d actually like to see in my garden. There are specialty growers that sell bulbs for $$ per bulb, or you could buy much larger quantities of more common cultivars for as low a 50 cents or less a bulb. Part of one’s decision depends on one’s budget and space. With the selection of a few hundred cultivars available, it’s a matter of narrowing down the selection, rather than wishing for more of the possible 30,000. Or is it?
Not many of us have the space to plant daffodils, or anything, for that matter, in great swaths along the meadows and banks, in forest clearings and edges. We can re-imagine this planting scheme with little river-lets in the Gertrude Jekyll style (though her prose may seem a little stilted): “It will be the daffodils that come first to mind when it is a question of arranging and grouping hardy bulbous plants. For these there is no better place than a stretch of thin woodland, there they can be seen both far and near. For the manner of planting, on which much of the success of the display depends, it may be confidently recommended that they should be placed in long drifts, more or less parallel, and that these should also be more or less parallel with the path from which they will be seen.” In our small city gardens, space is often at a premium. Adapting Ms. Jekyll’s advice to smaller drifts in gentle curves are indeed most pleasing, even in small gardens. Two years ago, having read some of Jekyll’s writings, I made a sinuous river of crocus, four and five crocus in width, parallel to each other in a front border. I am quite pleased with it’s effect.
Planting in groupings of several clumps of 20 makes a significant impression in a bed. If one has larger areas to plant, several hundred of one cultivar might be needed for an impression. Several sources I’ve read, including Ms. Jekyll, discourage against planting mixed daffodils together in an area, as it dilutes the look. Photos of the mixes in bloom show all the daffodils blooming at the same time, and they do look good. In actuality, mixes that advertise blooms from early to late spring may look weak in each of these periods, especially in small quantities. Again, that is in the eye of the beholder. (At right, a healthy stand of 'Ice Follies' -- a long term daffodil in my garden.)
How many bulbs should I plant in my flower bed? Colorblends has a handy guide and chart for determining the square footage and number of bulbs per square foot. Typically, for the larger daffodil bulbs, figure 4-5 bulbs per square foot, and 6-11 smaller bulbs per square foot. I admit, this sounds so technical, cold and calculated. Consider Henry Mitchell’s experience and practice (notable gardener and long time garden writer for the Washington Post). When offered a few dozen bulbs of ‘Cheerfulness’ from a friend, he turned them down saying he never planted less than a hundred of any one variety. As he grew older as a gardener, he said he became “less greedy,” and would probably buy three, knowing the first year the small clump would have a minimal effect, but would grow within a few short years when he’d be dividing and replanting. Mitchell was also one to buy the tried and true, rather than the flashy new cultivar whose garden worthiness was yet unproven. (Photo at left of a single daff, 'Dreamlight', a small-cupped Wister award winner.)
Certainly, for such a steadfast and beloved flower, cultivars that bloom from early (taking a chance on a damaging freeze) to late spring is a must. The American Daffodil Society gives awards for daffodils that exhibit excellence as a garden plant, rather than a show plant. Criteria for this award, the John and Gertrude Wister Award, includes: a long lasting bloom with a clean color, vigorous foliage that is disease and frost resistant, strong sturdy flower stems above the foliage, rot resistant bulb nor prone to splitting, with the emphasis on garden performance with good show quality, and best of all, the cultivar should be readily available. (ADS). Additionally, Wister award winners should perform well in most regions of the country. There is no limit to the number of cultivars awarded each year. To date, there are 45 Wister Award winners. View the list here. A garden made up of daffodils from the award list would be a garden of truly great daffodils.
Closer to home, but still far afield to matching our climate and weather, the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Gardens hosts a spectacular spring show, Dallas Blooms. Daffodils in the Dallas area bloom primarily in mid-February and early March. Along with the display, the Dallas Arboretum judges the bulbs for best performance in the North Texas area. They’ve posted nearly 90 cultivars of Narcissus, as well as other bulbs, that have performed well over the years as part of the Dallas Arboretum Plant Trials. (At right, Passionale. Mote the gradation of pink and yellow color, and the flaring of the trumpet.)
For my own garden, I will be adding a few more early blooming daffodils. These will be bicolors, with either vivid orange or pink, depending on where I plant them. Among a small display of pink blooming helebores, I’ll plant some pink and white blooming daffodils. The season won’t much matter, as hellebores bloom for a good six weeks. I’ve noticed most of my early daffodils planted are all white, yellow or golden. It would be nice to see a stronger show of orange large-cup dafs with either yellow or white perianths. I’ll want to have a decent mix of the colors in the mid and late seasons too. And now, instead of shunning them as I have in the past, choose one or two cultivars each of the doubles and split-corona daffodils. (A double double, photo at left.)
I have areas where miniature daffodils would be pleasing tucked in here and there. The miniatures, usually no more than six inches tall, are delightful lilliputian versions of their full-size kin. They are perfect for small rock gardens, or beds that are mostly shady in the summer, but exposed to the sun once the leaves fall. If planting these, buy more than you think you need – they are small!
Miniatures grow well in containers too. Naturally, I want some blooming early to late season, but don’t have space for just that. I’ll be pondering just how much and what as soon as the new season catalogs arrive.
A vase of daffodils is a joyful display of flowers that brings the best part of spring inside. A forsythia branch or two or other flowering or leafy shrub enhances the bouquet. (Bouquet of 'Carlton' and 'Ice Folies' with a sprig of lilac from my garden.)
In the United States, the best time to plant is in the fall near the time of the first frost. Daffodil bulbs begin to root earlier than tulip bulbs; therefore, should be planted earlier than tulips. However numerous sources assure gardeners it is OK to plant later. Sometimes our hectic lives causes us to forget to plant the bulbs we purchase, and find them months later in the garage. Plant them as soon as you find them! Depending on how late that is, you may not have the best results, but do not wait until the following fall – that is too late.
“Let them break in waves against the hill crests and go spilling in broad drifts down the dales and yonder. . . .” (Wright, The Gardener’s Bed-Book.) Daffodils do well when planted on hillsides and slopes. For heavy clay soil, be sure the soil is well amended or plant in raised beds. Many daffodils will do well when planted in containers; most catalogs make a point of mentioning which cultivars are better than others.
Generally, daffodils appreciate the sun. However, in our full-sun climate, if the cultivar description begs you to give it afternoon shade, please heed their advice. And take note, when those catalog descriptions are written up, they have in mind cloudier climates than ours. Years past I planted a clump of a dozen or more early season large-cup daffodils in a very shady, dry corner. Through the years they bloomed less and less until finally, the past few years have stopped blooming. The leaves came up blind. Failing to flag the clump, I would forget to dig up and move them. A year ago I planted some boxwood near them in that shady area, digging around the bulbs and amending the soil. And I watered regularly, where in the past, that area was left unattended. To my surprise, the entire clump bloomed this spring! I can only surmise it was the lack of water and nutrients, than the shade that caused daffodil "blindness."
When planting, plant the bulbs base down, nose upward in soil. Soil to the depth of two times the height of the bulb should be above the top of the planted bulb. They can be planted deeper if the area is cultivated for other plants. Breaking up the soil at the bottom of the hole is recommended for ease of root growth. Bulbs can be planted more shallow in clay soil. Bulbs will eventually find their correct depth, but when planting upside down, too deep or shallow, the bulbs will expend time and energy they might otherwise put into the flowers. Don’t forget to mulch.
Daffodils commonly need to be divided every two to three years for best flowering. With this in mind, plant them 4-6 inches apart, or more if one is perennializing (not actually naturalizing, since they are not native here) in lawns or woods. If a more impressive show is desired, plant closer together, but be advised they will need to be lifted and divided more frequently. (At right, 'Carlton' and 'Tete e Tete' after the snow.)
Identity crisis results from unlabeled bulbs. Label the bulb clumps or groups, as you will not remember the exact location or name later on. I know this from experience. Labels get lost, so the best method is labeling and mapping. Make a sketch of your garden and ink in the cultivar names on the drawing. Bulb identity really becomes a challenge when one lifts and replants around the garden. I also know this from experience. The blog post Uncovering Historic Daffodils at the New York Botanical Gardens chronicles the difficulties of, after decades, trying to identify close to a million daffodils in their collection.
Last fall, I planted four containers of crocus, daffodils and/or tulips. They were mostly exposed to the elements, except for the terrible February Arctic cold front that brought temperatures down to -11º, when they were brought into the garage for a few days. Some planted in plastic containers, and one in terra cotta, and were placed on the south side of our brick home. Bulbs in the terra cotta container show very little growth at this point (March 22). Many gardeners, mostly those abroad for now, have gone big into planting spring bulbs in containers. Hopefully, this will trend in the United States in the coming years. The finished product of a mobile, home-grown pot of bulbs isn’t the only benefit. The fun of planting and nurturing throughout the winter sprouts fulfillment, as well as beauty. The contains can be brought into the house – either for forcing the blooms, or as they’re blooming. Or move them around in the garden, as you like. ('Tete e Tete' in a container.)
Standard bulb pots are roughly 6 inches deep and at least 8 inches across. Use a good quality container mix. If layering other bulbs with tulips, a deeper pot of 8 or 10 inches might be better. Place tulips 4 -6 inches deep, daffodils and or hyacinths 3-5, and crocus 2 inches deep in the container's soil mix. Allow at least two inches of soil below the deepest planted bulb. A layer of grit or small stones on the top is helpful as a mulch. In choosing, crocus will bloom first in early spring. If desiring a succession of bloom, then a mid-season daffodil and finally, late season tulips works good.
As far as the quantity, bulbs can be placed fairly close to each other in the separate layers. I’ve seen some really over-the-top bulb pots where bulbs are placed as close to each other as can be placed – though usually one of a single bulb type. So experiment and find out what works best with your budget.
If you are unsure whether your containers of bulbs will survive the winter exposed to the elements, dig a trench to the depth of the pot, place the pots in the trench, and fill in with sand or mulch. Water the containers at least every other week, weather permitting. I’ve grown tulips in larger, insulated pots that have survived cold winters, including this last one. After the blooms are finished, fertilize them well as the leaves die down over the next 4-6 weeks. Do not cut the leaves back if you are planning to reuse the bulbs; allow them to die down. Then replant in your garden, or save for re-potting in the fall. Daffodils, crocus and hyacinths can last for many years; it’s best to re-purchase tulips each year.
Most of us are familiar with planting tazetta ‘Paperwhite’, 'Grand Soleil d'Or' and 'Ziva' daffodils near holiday time. These are planted in shallow 4 inch containers with the pointed tops of the bulbs a third exposed. These tazettas don’t require a chill period and will bloom 4-6 weeks after planting when kept warm in the house. This is the most common form of forced blooming, usually called forcing. It’s merely tricking the bulbs into bloom early.
To force other daffodils into blooming early, order for early delivery, by September 15th. Most other daffodils do need a chill period of 14-16 weeks. Bulbs potted for forcing should be refrigerated at 60º for six to eight weeks while they root, then at 35º – 45º for an additional six to eight weeks. Once roots emerge from the bottom of the pot, the pots need to be warmed inside a greenhouse or home and require maximum amount of daylight for normal growth and height. Use growlights if necessary. Keep them well watered. For a more detailed instruction on forcing daffodils, John Scheepers bulbs offers good advice here. Early blooming bulbs are the easiest to force. Most catalogs will mention in the cultivar description whether they are good for container growing or forcing, and quite a few cultivars in many divisions are recommended. (Tazetta daffodil at right.)
Most photos of daffodils and other spring bulbs usually include companion spring plants in the background, depicting a beautiful scene. Over the past few years, I’ve paid particular attention to what is actually emerging from the soil and blooming concurrent with spring bulbs. It’s hard to replicate the amounts of green hedges and evergreen borders of English and European gardens, that set off early flowers so brilliantly. Due to our climate and weather, in my garden at least, not many perennials have green leafy growth or flowers especially along with early season daffodils even with our warming climate. After the brutal February Arctic blast, my daffodils sent up flowers and began to bloom, only to be completed buried in snow during a March blizzard, as were any other plants that dared to venture upward. With a day or two of the snow melting, the daffodils popped back up.
Most natives are warm season plants, and will wait until April to get going. I plant primarily pansies and ornamental cabbage and kale in the fall as spring companions. Some years I have to replant the cabbage/kale, as I did after this February storm. Most buds on my forsythia froze this February. Columbine foliage, usually a staple, froze back to the ground. Pansies planted in-ground survived, but those in containers didn’t. Every year is different, the winter and spring of 2020 was much milder. (At right, Leucojum and Hellebore 'Fancy Ruffles' with daffodil.)
I started adding hellebores three years ago. Although the first flowers froze in the blizzard, they quickly recouped with new leaves and flowers. Dianthus planted in full sun can be in bloom by daffodil's mid-to-late season. Snapdragons and other spring annuals can be added to borders in March along with additional pansies. Planting daffodils among other bulbs enhances each other. Early daffodils with hyacinths and early tulips provide either complimentary or contrasting colors. And late season daffodils work well planted along with mid to late season tulips. Regardless what accompanies the daffodils, they bring gladness to start the season.
Daffodils for Appreciation and Shows
Daffodils are wonderful cut flowers and lend themselves well to bouquets and show competitions. Cutting the flower stalk to enjoy in a vase does not diminish the bulb. Daffodil flowers can be picked in the “fat gooseneck” bud stage, when the bud rests at a 90° angle and a bit of color shows. Double flowered cultivars must be three-quarters open; and with stems of multi-flowering daffodils, the first flower to open must be fully open. Becky Heath (Brent and Becky’s Bulbs) recommends picking the flowers, rather than cutting them. “To pick, run your forefinger down the stem to the point where it and the leaves come out of the ground, then put your thumb on the other side of the stem as if you were holding a pencil. Gently but firmly pull up and snap off all in the same motion.” (Heath, Daffodils.) Wash away any juice from the stems that get on your fingers. I’ve tried this and it works with a satisfying snap! Flowers grown commercially as cut flowers are picked in the green pencil stage, photo at left.
Other sources recommend cutting the flower stem diagonally with a sharp knife and immerse in warm water. Change the water every day or so. After the flowers open up, cut the stems diagonally again and place in cold water for better longevity. If combining daffodils with other flowers, let the daffodils sit overnight in a vase by themselves until the toxic sap drains out. Rinse and combine.
Daffodil shows, exhibits and competitions usually have categories for flower arrangements. When choosing daffodils for a show or exhibition, select a number of daffodils in the swollen bud/gooseneck stage of blooming and bring them inside, careful to keep rain and snow from spotting leaves or flowers, and especially from wind damage in our climate. After pulling, or cutting daffodils, place them in tepid water for a few hours. Only after discarding the water and using fresh cool water, can other flowers/stems be used along with the daffodils. The juice of daffodils is poisonous and will shorten the vase life of other flowers. (Photo at right, daffodil buds in the fat gooseneck stage.)
The only daffodil show in Texas was held on March 4 - 6, 2021, and is held annually at the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Gardens during Dallas Blooms, at the same time as daffodils are in flower in the area. Click here for photos of the winners and arrangements. There are many shows across the country, beginning in March in Dallas and California, and ending in Minneapolis in May. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, many of the shows are canceled this year and last, but I’m sure will return again next year.
Daffodils are long lived spring bulbs that are amenable to many climates and soil types, and I will hazard a guess, that at least in the short term, will be a reliable bloomer during our climate turmoil. Daffodils are adaptable to our gardening wants and needs. It is this versatility, where the breeder's tinkering improved daffodil color and flower diversity, that have made daffodils the world's number one spring flower. Whether you choose to plant a single clump of daffodils, a container, or fill your garden from end to end with daffodils, you and others will be rewarded from year to year. After a winter of ups and downs, arctic blasts, tornados and blizzards, the sight of even a single cheery daffodil brightens the heart.
“And now here come the daffodils,
The trumpeters of spring,
All tooting joy, which thrills and thrills,
The while again they bring
Their happiest note attuned with cheer
To tell that spring is truly here.”
Charles A. Heath, Daffodils
Trumpet (corona) is as long or longer than perianth. Early spring flowering, one large flower to stem. Performs better in Zone 7 and cooler.
Trumpet (corona) is 1/3 to as long as perianth. Large flower, one to stem. Mostly mid-spring.
Corona is less than 1/3 as long as perianth. One smaller flower to stem. Mid to late spring. Spicy fragrance.
Perianth segments and/or corona are doubled. One or more to a stem from early, mid or late spring. May be fragrant.
Petals swept back, one or more pendant flowers per stem. Prefers moist, acidic soils. Mid to mid-late spring
One flower to a stem, perianth reflexed, flower nodding down at acute angle from stem. Good in partial shade. Good in containers and forcing. Early mid-spring.
1-5 flowers to stem, perianth segments spreading, usually fragrant. Reed-like foliage. Good in containers. Great for Southern gardens. Mid to late spring.
3-20 small flowers per stem, perianth spreading, not reflexed, fragrant. Perennializes and forces quite well. Early to late spring.
One small flower per stem. Perianth white, corona disk-shaped w/green or yellow center and red rim. Fragrant. Late spring.
One flower to stem, perianth insignificant, large flaring corona. Small. Early mid spring.
Split corona usually at least half its length and laid against the perianth. Mid to late spring.
Daffodils that don’t fall into any other category.
13 Wild Species
Wild species or heirloom varieties.
Small flowers 1 inch or less, and 6 inches or less tall. Great for containers and forcing. Many early spring, some late spring.
First in the Daffodil series, The World's Most Popular Spring Flower -- Daffodils.
Second in the Daffodil series, Daffodil Organisation.
Gripshover, Mary Lou; “Daffodils, Regional Proven Performers”, The American Gardener, March/April 2011.
Heath, Brent and Becky. Daffodils for American Gardens, Bright Sky Press, 2001.
Jekyll, Gertrude. The Unknown Gertrude Jekyll, Selected and Edited by Martin Wood, Frances Lincoln, Ltd., 2006.
Kingsbury, Noel. Daffodil The Remarkable Story of the World's Most Popular Flower, Timber Press, 2013.
Lyman, Claire. Uncovering Historic Daffodils at the New York Botanical Gardens, November 30, 2020
Mitchel, Henry. The Essential Earthman, “Daffodil-irious,” Indiana University Press, 2003.
Pavord, Anna. Bulb, Mitchell Beasley, publishers, 2009.
Pelczar, Rita. “Forcing Hardy Bulbs for Winter Blooms”, American Gardener, November/December 2018.
PHS Daffodils, supplier of showy and unusual bulbs
Willis, David. Yellow Fever, A Prospect of the History and Culture of Daffodils, Privately Published by the author, 2012. An eBook in the DaffLibrary.
Wright, Richardson. The Gardener’s Bed-Book, Random House, 1929.
Angie Hanna, March, 2021©