Tips for Daffodil Care

Here are some tried-and-true tips for success.

Brent and Becky Heath know daffodils. They grow fields of them at their bulb farm, Brent and Becky's Bulbs, in Gloucester, Virginia. Here are some of their tried-and-true tips for success.

  • "Never cut daffodils," says Brent. "Always pick them. When you cut them, they have a shorter stem, and the stem is hollow. It doesn't draw water very well, and the flowers don't last. If you pick them, reach all the way down to the very base of the stem to snap it off. You get a much longer stem with that solid white part at the end that soaks up water and holds it. Daffodil flowers last beautifully when gathered this way."
  • Brent also suggests "companion planting" your drifts of daffodils with daylilies. "Perennials that bloom after the daffodils will help use up any soil moisture so that the bulbs stay dry and healthy. Daylilies are particularly handy because they're very low maintenance, and the growing daylily foliage will nicely disguise fading daffodil foliage."
  • The farther south you garden, the more careful you need to be about choosing daffodils that need less chilling. "For most daffodil bulbs to root successfully," explains Brent, "the soil temperatures at 6 inches deep have to be 60 degrees or below. You can actually dig a hole and leave a thermometer in it for 5 minutes, or just make assumptions from the air temperature. By the first frost, soil temperatures tend to be cool enough, or after the air temperatures have been in the 30s or 40s for a while. Some daffodils that will perennialize even in areas with uncertain winters are 'St Keverne,' 'Carlton,' 'Avalanche,' and selections from the jonquilla and tazetta divisions of daffodils."
  • "Don't just fertilize with bonemeal and expect good long-term results," says Brent. "It has no potash (potassium), little nitrogen, and is mainly just phosphorus, which can tie up other nutrients in the soil. Holland Bulb Booster, with ratio of 9-9-6, is one of the best all-round commercial timed-release fertilizers for bulbs, especially tulips. Daffodils like a little more potassium, though, so we offer our own Daffodil Fertilizer (10-10-20), made to our specifications.
  • "If you want to create a natural, graceful planting," says Brent, "try to lay out the bulbs in large, fluid sweeps of just a few kinds of daffodils. The initial investment for several hundred or even thousands of daffodil bulbs may seem high, but it will be one of your least expensive landscape improvements because of their longevity and minimal maintenance."
  • Most daffodils will perennialize better when planted at a depth that equals at least three times their height. That's 6 to 8 inches deep for large bulbs, 3 to 6 inches for medium-size bulbs, and 2 to 3 inches for bulbs that are 1 inch in diameter or smaller. The reason for this, Brent explains, is that the soil pressure actually helps keep the bulb from splitting up too readily. Plant too shallowly, he says, "and bulbs tend to split up too quickly. You end up with bigger clumps, but smaller bulbs and fewer, smaller flowers."
  • When it's time to feed your daffodil bulbs in the fall, there won't be any foliage showing to help you remember where you planted them. Brent cleverly suggests outlining the drifts of daffodils with smaller bulbs, such grape hyacinth (Muscari sp.) or star flower (Ipheon sp.), whose leaves do come up in the fall. Or, he says, "Golf tees work well. Set them at the edges of the planting in late spring before the foliage dies down. They don't get pulled up accidentally because they're too low to the ground for a mower, and they're colorful enough to find later on."