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How to grow daffodils

Val Bourne / 12 October 2015 ( 05 April 2019 )

Daffodils, or narcissi, are perfectly suited to the British climate. Gardening expert Val Bourne explains how to grow them.

Plant daffodils in September and October for cheerful spring colour

Daffodils, or narcissi, are easy to grow and are tailor-made for the British temperate climate, so it’s no wonder that they are so ubiquitous.

The key to success is to pick the correct daffodil for the job, in the colours you enjoy, whether it’s a brash in-your-face yellow or sophisticated cool white.

Flowering times vary too, from early spring until May, and flower shape can be elegant single or showy double. Some have a strong fragrance: others none at all.

You’re literally spoilt for choice, because plant breeders have been selecting and raising daffodils for over a hundred and fifty years. Some of the older varieties were bred for exhibiting and may make week-stemmed, heavy-headed flowers in the garden setting. However, most modern breeders produce garden worthy varieties with strong stems.

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When to plant daffodils

Ideally, plant daffodils between September and the first half of October.

Where to plant daffodils

There’s a narcissi for every spot, from well-drained sunny scree, to container to woodland border. However, most daffodils grow in ordinary garden soil.

How to plant daffodils

Plant daffodil bulbs at twice the depth of the bulb between September and the first half of October.

Wear gloves if you have sensitive skin because some daffodil bulbs do irritate the skin. Always wash your hands afterwards: bulbs are often treated with a fungicide.

A small trowel is the most useful tool in the border, but a garden spade is best when planting in grass.

Cut a foot-long v-shape in the grass, as if it were two sides of a triangle, and lift the v-shaped flap of turf. Break up the soil underneath with a garden fork and place the bulbs in the triangle and then stretch the flap of turf in your hands to distress it slightly. Replace the turf, trimming if you have to.

If you’re planting a border avoid any straight lines, unless it’s in a cutting garden. Randomly throw them on the ground and plant where they land.

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Planting sprouted daffodil bulbs

Plant sprouted daffodil bulbs as soon as you can so that they have the best chance of flowering and producing leaf. They are likely to be miserable affairs this year, but they will survive and may well prosper in future years - depending on variety.

When to cut daffodils back

After flowering most daffodils are best deadheaded, with the exception of wild species. These need to be left to self-seed.

Allow the foliage a full six weeks to die down before removing any foliage or mowing off any leaves. This will replenish the bulb and allow it to concentrate its energy into producing next year's flowers.

Lifting bulbs

The best time to lift daffodil bulbs is in late-summer when the bulbs are fully dormant.

Blind bulbs

Blind bulbs, which are daffodils with foliage but no flowers, either need feeding or dividing. They will recover, but it may take two years and might need moving to a sunnier spot.

Grow with…

Daffodils can be grown anywhere in the garden and they seem to tolerate heavy ground better than other bulbs. They work best masses together in grass, or in a border. Try not to mix them with tulips however, because by the time most tulips flower the daffodils will be over and the seed heads will mar your tulip display.

Find out how to grow tulips

Daffodil varieties

The Miniatures

Miniature daffodils are under a foot in height (30cm) and they were originally developed by a Cornish cut flower grower called Alec Gray between 1927 and the 1960s. He used early flowering species and hybridised them with Cornish cut flower varieties in the hopes of producing earlier cut-flower daffodils that would fetch a higher premium. All his seedlings were disappointingly short, so of no use for the cut flower trade, but Grey grew to love them and so have gardeners.

Their short stature makes miniature daffodils resilient to all sorts of weather and they are perfectly suited to container planting with other miniature bulbs.

Gray produced the classic short variety ‘Tête à Tête’ (1949) and there is now a double form called ‘Tete Rosette’ with an inner cup full of ruffled petals surrounded by a slightly reflexed collar. It has a windswept quality.

Gray also raised ‘Jumblie’ (1952) and ‘Quince’ (1953) and it came from the same seed pod as Tête à Tête’.

The Earliest flowering daffodil

Narcissus 'Rijnveld's Early Sensation’

This daffodil can flower as early as Christmas in mild winters, but even in cold winters it will arrive in February. Give it a key position at the corner of a path or by a doorway, so that you can enjoy it. This all- yellow daffodil will return year after and it’s well-named - sensational and early.

For more early flower, find out how to grow snowdrops

Daffodils for grass

Many daffodils are robust enough to push up through turf. They include ‘Jetfire’, a jaunty yellow American daffodil with almost-red trumpet.

‘Glen Cova’ is golden yellow daffodil with a long deep orange trumpet and it does well in grass.

‘Red Devon’ has similar yellow and deep-orange colouring but the wide trumpet has a lacy edge.

Wild-looking daffodils

Britain has two species of native daffodil and both are being raised commercially. N. obvallaris, the Tenby daffodil, is an all-yellow affair, but the English wild daffodil (N. lobularis) has two-tone pallid-yellow and deeper yellow flowers. Or you could plant an old pre-1869 variety that looks like a wilding, ‘W.P. Milner’. All do well in grass once established, although they do take their time. Plant them in clusters and do allow them to self-seed, leaving two or three months before mowing. This how they spread in the wild. Most other daffodils should be dead-headed however.

Scented varieties

Scented varieties tend to flower in April due to their Jonquil blood and they make excellent cut flowers, container plants and garden plants.

‘Cheerfulness’ comes in two forms, a yellow and a white, and both are multi-flowered with small rosette-shaped flowers. ‘Winston Churchill’ is a cream with a marmalade twist.

'Silver Chimes' is a milk-white narcissi with a pale-lemon trumpet and ‘Curlew’, which flowers in late-April after the others, is a cream-white with a pale trumpet that ages to almost white. They’re all good in pots, or in a cutting garden.

Later flowering daffodil varieties

The latest to flower are usually the pheasant-eyed narcissi sometimes known as Poet’s narcissi. These also have a good fragrance and one flower sits on top of a willowy stems, so they make an excellent cut flower. They also naturalise well.

This pure-white has a small orange cup.

‘Goose Green'
Is also a pure white, with a green eye edged held in a yellow cup finely edged in red.

Narcissus ‘Actaea'
Broad snowy white outers with small yellow cup edged in red.

Narcissus poeticus var. recurvus (Pheasant Eye)
Pure white petals with a deep red eye. Narcissus Recurvus “Pheasant Eye Narcissus” has a delicious sent and will flower in to late spring.

Pale and interesting daffodil varieties

Narcissus ‘Ice Follies’
White with a pale yellow flat crown changing to creamy white. This large and impressive narcissi is an excellent can be used in grass, in borders and in containers.

Narcissus ‘Papillon Blanc’
A pure white butterfly or orchid daffodil. for those who love the showy.

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