Essential Southern Plant
Looking for easy-to-grow bulbs that come back every year? Here is your plant.
- Perennials from bulbs
- US, MS, LS, CS (northern third)
- 9–1, except as noted
- Full sun or partial shade
- Regular water during growth and bloom
Native to Europe and North Africa, these are arguably the finest and most valuable spring bulbs for the South. They are long
lived, increasing naturally from year to year; they stand up to cold and heat; they have many garden uses; and they offer
a fascinating array of flower forms, sizes, and colors. Given minimal care at planting, all thrive with virtually no further
attention. They do not require summer watering (although they’ll accept it) and need only infrequent division. Finally, rodents
and deer won’t eat them.
Flowering commences in winter in the Lower and Coastal South, in early spring elsewhere. The basic colors are yellow and white, but you’ll also find shades of orange, apricot, pink, cream, and even red.
Gardeners tend to use the names “daffodil” and “jonquil” interchangeably. Technically, however, “daffodil” refers to large-flowered kinds with flat, straplike leaves. “Jonquil” denotes N. jonquilla and its hybrids; they feature smaller, fragrant, clustered blooms and cylindrical leaves with pointed tips, reminiscent of quills. If you stick to calling them all “narcissus,” you can’t go wrong.
All have the same basic flower structure. Each bloom has a perianth (six outer petal-like segments) that surrounds (and is held at right angles to) a central corona (also called the trumpet or cup, depending on its length).
Most types reach 1–1 1/2 ft. tall. Flowers usually face the sun; be sure to keep this in mind when choosing a planting spot. Use narcissus under high-branching trees and flowering shrubs, among ground cover plantings, in woodland and rock gardens, or in borders. Naturalize them in sweeping drifts. Grow them in containers. They make fine cut flowers, though they should have a vase of their own; freshly cut stems release a substance that causes other cut flowers to wilt.
Plant bulbs as soon as they are available in fall. They should feel solid and heavy and be free of discoloration. “Double-nose” bulbs will give you the most and largest flowers the first season after planting.
After the blossoms fade, let the leaves mature and yellow naturally―if you cut the foliage before it yellows, subsequent flowering may be reduced or eliminated. Lift and divide clumps when flowers get smaller and fewer. To make this job easier, dig clumps just after the foliage withers so you can tell where the bulbs are. Separate the bulbs and replant them in freshly amended soil.
Like other plants, narcissus bulbs need food. Bonemeal used to be the recommended fertilizer, but no more: it lacks the nitrogen that promotes healthy foliage. Special bulb fertilizers are much better; look for a 10-10-20 formulation with controlled-release nitrogen. Mix fertilizer into the soil at planting time. In subsequent years, sprinkle bulb fertilizer over the bulb bed each fall at the rate specified on the bag, then scratch or water it in.
The most serious pest is the narcissus bulb fly. An adult fly resembles a small bumblebee. The female lays eggs on leaves and on necks of bulbs; when eggs hatch, young grubs eat their way into bulbs. Check bulbs before planting and destroy any grubs. Planting at the recommended depth will reduce infestations.
Surefire Daffodils for the South
These daffodils bloom dependably in most areas and increase with little care: ‘Avalon’, ‘Carlton’, ‘February Gold’, ‘Geranium’, ‘Hawera’, ‘Ice Follies’, ‘Jack Snipe’, ‘Jetfire’, ‘Minnow’, Narcissus odorus, ‘Quail’, ‘Saint Keverne’, ‘Salome’, ‘Tête-à-tête’, ‘Thalia’, and ‘Trevithian’.
12 Divisions of Daffodils
Trumpet daffodils. The trumpet is as long as or longer than the perianth segments; one flower per stem. The best known is yellow ‘King Alfred’, a top-selling old selection that is quickly giving way to better performers. Newer ‘Arctic Gold’, ‘Dutch Master’, and ‘Marieke’ are superior yellows. Pure white selections include ‘Mount Hood’ and ‘Empress of Ireland’. Bicolors with white segments and a yellow trumpet include ‘Bravoure’, ‘Holland Sensation’, and ‘Las Vegas’. Among selections with yellow segments and a white trumpet are ‘Honeybird’ and ‘Spellbinder’.
Large-cupped daffodils. The cup is shorter than the perianth segments, but always more than one-third their length; one flower per stem. Solid yellow
selections include ‘Camelot’, ‘Carlton’ (possibly the most popular daffodil of all), and ‘Saint Keverne’ (a great choice for
the Lower South). Solid whites include ‘Birthday Girl’, ‘Misty Glen’, and ‘Stainless’. Selections with white segments and
a colored cup include ‘Accent’ (salmon pink cup), ‘Ice Follies’ (yellow cup), ‘Pink Pride’ (pink cup), ‘Redhill’ (red-orange
cup), and ‘Salome’ (apricot-yellow cup that fades to salmon). Those with yellow segments and a colored cup include ‘By George’
(peachy pink cup), ‘Ceylon’ (red-orange cup), and ‘Fortissimo’ (orange cup). ‘Avalon’ has yellow segments and a white cup.
Small-cupped daffodils. The cup is no more than one-third the length of the perianth segments; one flower per stem. Selections include ‘Audubon’ (white segments and pale yellow cup banded with pink) and ‘Barrett Browning’ (white segments and orange-red cup).
Double daffodils. Doubling of the cup, perianth segments, or both; one or more flowers per stem. Flower looks more like a peony than a typical
daffodil. Examples are ‘Cheerfulness’ (white with yellow flecks), ‘Golden Ducat’ (golden yellow), ‘Replete’ (white segments,
pink cup), and ‘White Lion’ (white segments, yellow cup).
Triandrus hybrids. Cup at least two-thirds the length of perianth segments; several nodding flowers per stem. Diminutive ‘Hawera’ has four to six lemon yellow flowers per stem; it is good for naturalizing and will spread by seed. Old favorite ‘Thalia’ offers elegant white, fragrant blooms.
Cyclamineus hybrids. Early bloomers with one flower per stem. Perianth segments strongly swept back. Popular selections include ‘February Gold’
(solid yellow), ‘Jack Snipe’ (white segments, yellow cup), and ‘Jetfire’ (yellow segments, red-orange cup).
Jonquilla hybrids. Each stem bears one to five small, very fragrant flowers; leaves are dark green and very narrow. Choices include ‘Baby Moon’ (bright yellow); ‘Intrigue’ (lemon yellow segments, yellow cup fading to white); ‘Pipit’ (yellow segments, white cup); and ‘Quail’, ‘Sun Disc’, ‘Sweetness’, and ‘Trevithian’ (all solid yellow).
Tazetta and Tazetta hybrids. Heat zones 10–7. Early-blooming types bearing clusters of 3 to 20 flowers on each stout stem; many have a musky-sweet fragrance that can be overpowering indoors. The most heat-tolerant group, they do well in central Florida; hardy only to about 10°F. ‘Avalanche’ (‘Seventeen Sisters’) produces clusters of 15 to 20 blossoms with white segments and a yellow cup. ‘Falconet’ and ‘Scarlet Gem’ feature yellow segments and a red-orange cup. ‘Geranium’ has creamy white segments and an orange cup; ‘Minnow’ has a pale yellow cup and pale yellow segments that fade to cream.
This division also includes the popular paperwhite narcissus that are forced into early bloom indoors. Plant them in bowls of pebbles and give them cool temperatures (50–60°F) and bright light. ‘Early Splendor’ has white segments and an orange cup; ‘Grand Soleil d’Or’ has golden yellow segments and an orange cup. ‘Nazareth’ has soft yellow segments and a bright yellow cup; ‘Paper White’ is pure white.
Poeticus daffodils. Fragrant flowers with white perianth segments and a short, disk-shaped cup with a green or yellow center and a red rim; one blossom per stem. ‘Actaea’ has the largest flowers (up to 4 in. across) and is the best known. These daffodils are sometimes given the name “pheasant’s eye,” but this term is correctly applied to the heirloom Narcissus poeticus recurvus.
Split-corona hybrids. Cup is split for at least one-third its length into two or more segments. ‘Cassata’ (white perianth segments, yellow cup), ‘Colblanc’ (all white), and ‘Palmares’ (white perianth segments, peachy pink cup) are three of the more readily available selections in this small but growing class.
Heirloom species. These old favorites often can be seen blooming at old homesites and graveyards and along roadsides throughout the South.
N. bulbocodium. Hoop Petticoat Daffodil. Grows to 6 in. tall. Small, upward-facing flowers are mostly trumpet, with very narrow, pointed perianth segments. Deep and pale yellow selections are available. Spreads by seed; good choice for naturalizing.
N. ‘Butter and Eggs’ (‘Golden Phoenix’, ‘Aurantius Plenus’). Double yellow flowers. An old Southern favorite similar to N. pseudonarcissus ‘Telemonius Plenus’, but flowers open dependably throughout climate range and are softer in color, without streaks. Grows 16–18 in. tall.
N. cyclamineus. Backward-curved lemon yellow segments and narrow, tubular golden cup; 6 in. high.
N. jonquilla. Jonquil. Semicylindrical, erect to spreading, rushlike leaves. Clusters of early, very fragrant, golden yellow flowers with short cups. To 1 ft. tall.
N. medioluteus. Twin Sisters. Grows to 14 in. tall, bearing two flowers per stem; white segments, small yellow cup. Very late; last daffodil of the season.
N. odorus. Campernelle Jonquil. A sweet-scented, old-fashioned favorite. Often found in older gardens and cemeteries in Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas. Grows to 1 ft. tall. Early in the season bears golden yellow, bell-like cups with recurved round segments; two to four flowers per stem. Rushlike leaves. Tolerates heavy clay and limy soils. ‘Plenus’ has double flowers.
N. poeticus recurvus. Pheasant’s Eye. Old favorite. To 1 ft. tall. Small yellow cup with green central “eye” and red rim; pure white, reflexed segments.
N. pseudonarcissus. Lent Lily. One of the oldest daffodils―in cultivation since 1200 a.d. Grows to 12–14 in. tall. Long yellow cup; twisted yellow perianth segments that are swept forward, giving the blossoms a dog-eared look. Blooms early. ‘Telemonius Plenus’ (considered by many to be identical to ‘Van Sion’) has double yellow flowers with green streaks. Flowers of this selection often fail to open properly in the warm, humid springs of the Lower and Coastal South.
N. triandrus. Angel’s Tears. Clusters of small white or pale yellow flowers on stems to 10 in. Rushlike foliage.
Miscellaneous. This category contains all types that don’t fit the other divisions. ‘Tête-à-tête’ and ‘Jumblie’ (both yellow) have flowers like those of the Cyclamineus hybrids, but they’re dwarf plants that reach a height of only 6 in.
Forcing Daffodils for Early Bloom
For early bloom indoors, set bulbs close together in a pot with their tips level with the soil surface. Place the pot in a well-drained trench or a cold frame and cover with 6–8 in. of sand, chopped leaves, or pine straw. Look for roots in 8 to 10 weeks (carefully remove the soil mass from the pot). Then move the pot to a cool room or greenhouse and watch for blooms. Keep well watered. After the blooms fade and the last frost is past, transfer the bulbs to your garden.
Daffodil Gardening Tips
Exposure: Narcissus do best in full sun, though they’ll tolerate the dappled shade beneath high-branching deciduous trees. They won’t bloom well in shade.
Soil: They are not fussy about soil as long as it is loose and well drained. To improve drainage in heavy soils, deeply dig in plenty of organic matter prior to planting.
Planting: Set bulbs about twice as deep as they are tall―typically 5–6 in. deep for large bulbs and 3–5 in. deep for smaller ones. Space bulbs approximately 6–8 in. apart.
Watering: Water newly planted bulbs thoroughly. In many regions, fall and winter are wet or snowy enough to provide moisture. Keep plantings well watered if precipitation fails; continue until foliage begins to yellow. Plants don’t need summer moisture.
Dividing: Clumps need dividing only when bloom quantity and/or quality declines. Wait until the leaves die back, then dig the clumps and replant.