Home Gardening Center Tip Sheet: Daffodil Delight

By Sonia Uyterhoeven

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Daffodil Delight

Daffodils are one of the cheeriest signs of spring. Whether you call them daffodils, narcissus, jonquils, or paperwhites, they are all members of the genus Narcissus. There are over 13,000 different hybrids available in the nursery trade. Part of their popularity is due to their timing--they appear from late March into May, breaking the monotony of winter and brightening up the landscape. They are also incredibly easy to grow and require very little care once planted. They are tough and versatile. Deer and rodents will not touch them (the bulbs are poisonous); they make excellent cut flowers; and many varieties are wonderfully fragrant.

Flower-arranging tip: the sap from cut daffodil stems is said to shorten the vase life of other flowers mixed with them. Use them alone in a vase; cut and let them sit in a vase for a few hours before changing the water and adding other flowers or seal daffodil stems with a flame.

Planting and care instructions are fairly simple. Daffodils grow best in full sun or dappled shade. Let them naturalize under deciduous trees and shrubs or scatter them in drifts throughout your perennial garden. They prefer neutral or acidic soil with good drainage. Depending on the size of the bulbs, plant them 4 to 6 inches deep. Rule of thumb: plant bulbs three times their height and space them three times their width (4 to 12 inches).

Add a bulb fertilizer or a balanced fertilizer to the soil when planting. In the spring, allow the foliage to remain for at least 6 weeks before cutting down. Do not tie or wrap the foliage as it needs to photosynthesize to send energy back into the bulb. If necessary, move or divide clumps as they go dormant in the summer. Move while foliage is still visible to avoid slicing through bulbs.

If your daffodils stop flowering then it could be a result of the following: the location is too shady, improper drainage (they don’t like sitting in wet soil), the foliage was cut back too soon, or they need fertilizing. To fertilize an existing planting add a granular fertilizer when the foliage emerges in the spring and again when they begin to flower. You do not need to fertilize them annually--they are fairly self-sufficient.

Daffodils consist of a trumpet or a cup (the corona) surrounded by six petals (the perianth). The American Daffodil Society has classified cultivars into 13 divisions based on the shape and size of the flower. Understanding these divisions will help you choose the daffodils that are best for your garden. Daffodils come in early, mid- and late-flowering varieties so that you can enjoy flowers in your garden over the course of three months.

Division 1: Trumpet Daffodils
These are the quintessential daffodils with large flowers and long, trumpet-shaped corona. They are excellent naturalizers in Zones 3-7. They have early to mid-season blooms. The popular, golden-yellow ‘King Alfred’, the most famous of this group is an elegant choice, but it is difficult to find the real thing except from specialty growers. Many newer varieties are just as impressive. Cultivars include: Arctic Gold, Dutch Master, King Alfred, Las Vegas, Lorikeet, Mount Hood, Rijnveld’s Early Sensation, Silent Valley, and Spellbinder.

Division 2: Large-cupped Daffodils
The majority of modern daffodils fall into this category. They span the full range of color in the daffodil world, from white to pale pink to every shade of yellow. The cups (corona) are more than 1/3 the length of the petals. Cultivars include: Accent, Ambergate, Carlton, Delibes, Fortissimo, Fragrant Rose, Ice Follies, Kissproof, Louise de Coligny, Misty Glen, Monal, Pink Charm, Romance, Salome, Scarlet O’Hara, and Serola.

Division 3: Small-cupped Daffodils
These tend to be smaller and more graceful than large-cupped daffodils and many naturalize well. Cultivars include: After All, Barret Browning, Birma, Dreamlight, Edna Earle, Mint Julep, Polar Ice, Sabine Hay, and Sinopel.

Division 4: Double Daffodils
In these flowers, the corona, the perianth, or both is doubled. The flowers on doubles look rather like gardenias. Many have wonderful fragrance and more than one flower per stem. Cultivars include: Abba, Acropolis, Bridal Crown, Cheerfulness, Erlicheer, Golden Ducat, Ice King, Manly, Replete, Rosy Cloud, Sir Winston Churchill, and Tahiti.

Division 5: Triandrus Daffodils
These daffodils have drooping heads and reflexed petals (curled backward). These daffodils tend to have more than one flower per stem, resembling fuchsias, and can be very fragrant. Cultivars include: Fairy Chimes, Ice Wings, Katie Heath, Petrel, Stint, Thalia, and Tresamble.

Division 6: Cyclamineus Daffodils
These small daffodils flower early and can tolerate shady locations and heavy soils better than most daffodils. With their reflexed (curled backwards) petals, these cultivars look like cyclamen. They make excellent rock garden plants. Cultivars include: February Gold, Foundling, Itzim, Jack Snipe, Greenlet, Jetfire, and Peeping Tom.

Division 7: Jonquilla Daffodils
These daffodils have up to five flowers per stem. They are known for their fragrance and reed-like foliage. Jonquils do well in the South and can be grown in Zones 5–9. Cultivars include: Dickcissel, Fruit Cup, Golden Echo, Hillstar, Intrigue, Kedron, Pappy George, Pipit, Stratosphere, and Sweetness.

Division 8: Tazetta Daffodils
These daffodils prefer warmer conditions (Zone 5-9). The paperwhites that we grow indoors belong to this division. They tend to be floriferous and produce up to 20 blossoms per stem. They have small cups and rounded petals. Cultivars include: Avalanche, Canarybird, Falconet, Geranium, Hoopoe, Inbal, and Scarlet Gem.

Division 9: Poeticus Daffodils
These daffodils have large white petals, very small cups, a spicy fragrance, and naturalize well. They are hybrids of the wild Pheasant Eye daffodil (Narcissus poeticus var. recurvus). Cultivars include: Actaea, Dactyl, Green Pearl, Milan, Pheasant Eye, and Felindre.

Division 10: Bulbocodium Daffodils
These diminutive daffodils have tiny petals and a large trumpet. Their common name is the Hoop Petticoat daffodil. The parentage behind this group is the species Narcissus bulbocodium var. conspicuus. Cultivars include: Golden Bells, Greenlet, Kenellis, and Spoirot.

Division 11: Split-corona Daffodils
In this division the corona is split and may be ruffled or flattened, creating large, dramatic flowers. There are two groups in this division: Collar types with ruffled or frilly cups and Papillon types with an open butterfly-like cup. These daffodils make excellent cut flowers. Cultivars include: Cassata, Colblanc, Mondragon, Orangery, Palmares, Rosado, and Tripartite, Broadway Star, Lemon Beauty, Papillon Blanc, Sorbet, and Space Shuttle.

Division 12: Miscellaneous Daffodils
These are daffodils that don’t fit into other divisions. Many of them are small and often grouped with miniatures. Cultivars include: Bittern, Jumblie, Quince, Royal Tern, and Tête-à-Tête.

Division 13: Species and Naturally Occurring Hybrids
Many of these wild species and their natural hybrids are very small. They are best grown in a rock garden or small bed where their charming flowers can be easily enjoyed. They combine well with some of the miniature daffodils listed below. Species include: Narcissus jonquilla, N. obvallaris, N. pseudonarcissus, and N. triandus albus.

These are daffodils that are no more than 6 inches tall with flowers under 1 1/2 inches. Minis are classified in other divisions depending on the shape of the flower. Cultivars include: Baby Moon, Hawera, Little Gem, Midget, Minnow, and Sundial.

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