And then my heart with pleasure fills
And dances with the daffodils.
William Wordsworth wrote his famous daffodil poem in 1804. In the more than two centuries that have passed since then, the poem has become a classic, and the daffodil a welcome harbinger of spring.
Most people are familiar with the bright yellow blossom, typically the variety King Alfred, sold by big box stores each fall in packs of 50 or 100 and planted in masses along roadsides. Yet, the daffodil is available in many more colors and forms, from the elegant pure white Stainless to the whirly butterfly Orangery. Purchase a variety of early, mid, and late season bulbs, and you can have daffodils blooming from late winter to late spring. Deer, rodent, and rabbit-resistant, the blooms will return annually for decades.
Daffodils belong to the genus Narcissus, and are known variously as daffodils, narcissus, and jonquils. They are easy care perennials that will bloom annually for decades with a minimum of care. Here are the steps to follow to establish these fragrant beauties in your garden.
Where to find bulbs? Purchase your bulbs from a reputable supplier. Local hardware stores, garden centers, and big box stores are well-stocked this time of year. To find a wider variety of cultivars, try online sources such as John Scheepers, White Flower Farm, Old House Gardens, and Brent and Becky’s Bulbs all have trusted sources. Inspect your bulbs, and discard any that are soft or have visible signs of disease or decay.
When to plant? October and November are the best months for daffodil-planting in the mid-Atlantic states. You want to get them in the ground before a hard freeze so they can establish a few roots. If the winter is mild, you can plant as late as January and still get blooms in spring.
Where to plant? Daffodils need at least six hours of sunlight to flourish. It is fine to plant them under deciduous trees if they are early varieties, as they will get full sun until the leaves grow in the spring. Daffodils will not do well planted under evergreens, so avoid such spots. Plant them at least six inches apart, as the bulbs will grow additional bulbs and you don’t want them too crowded. If you have a spring where the bulbs don’t bloom as well, that is a signal that it is time to dig and divide them.
How to plant? Plant the bulbs in a hole approximately twice as deep as the bulb is tall. If you are planting just a few, bulb digger tools are helpful. For more than that, though, you may find it easier to use a spade or hand trowel. Work some low-nitrogen fertilizer into the soil, such as 5-10-10. Plant them with the larger side down and the pointy side pointing up. Water well, or time your planting just before rain.
That’s it! In a few months, you’ll see their bright green leaves poking through the earth. Sprinkle some more 5-10-10 when you see the leaves. You needn’t worry if you see the leaves while it is still cold, as the leaves are remarkably cold-hardy. If your daffodils are budded up or blooming and a freeze is forecast, you cover them overnight, removing the cover the next morning.
After the blooms are finished, deadhead them, but leave the foliage in place until it yellows. The foliage is feeding the bulb for next year’s bloom, and if you remove it too soon, you won’t get blooms the next spring.
Here are a few interesting varieties to try according to when they bloom.
Early Spring: Rijnveld’s Early Sensation, a classic yellow and the earliest to bloom; Abba, a multi-flowering daffodil of white with orange petals; Milena, a yellow double daffodil that is very fragrant.
Mid Spring: Pink Champagne, a white double daffodil with a pink center; Tahiti, a yellow daffodil with an orange center; Sunny Girlfriend, a butterfly yellow daffodil that turns top ink with a frilled orange center.
Late Spring: Mount Hood, a white daffodil bred in the 1930s; Salome, which starts out with yellow trumpets that fade to pink over a few days; Lemon Beauty, white with a yellow center.
What to learn more? The American Daffodil Society has lots of excellent information on their website, www.daffodilusa.org. Daffodils for North American Gardens by Becky Heath, is also a wonderful resource. Daffodils in American Gardens by Sara L. Van Beck is a thorough history of the flower in the United States.
Lisa Derx is a member of the American Daffodil Society, Membership Chair for the National Capital Dahlia Society, President of Chesapeake Flower Exchange, Local Flowers Liaison for the Independent Floral Designers Association, and a member of the Association of Specialty Cut Flowers and the Maryland Cut Flower Growers Association. Her home is in Dayton, Maryland, where she lives and grows flowers with her husband Dan and cat Sebastian.
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