Planting Daffodils

Whether you're planting 50 or 1,000 daffodill bulbs, garden expert P. Allen Smith knows how to get the biggest bang for you buck.
Article: Steve Binder

Each spring at Moss Mountain Farm in Roland, Arkansas, the stars come out twice—once at night, like everywhere else, and again in the daytime, when innumerable daffodils illuminate hills and meadows from horizon to horizon.

The plantings are the handiwork of the farm's owner—author, designer, and TV personality P. Allen Smith—who has loved these flowers since he was a boy. Allen believes the impact of a display depends on more than just numbers. How and where you plant bulbs is just as important as how many, no matter whether you have an acre or a 20- by 10-foot border. Here are some lessons we learned from a recent visit to his garden home.

Concentrate your color.
Plant daffodils in bunches. Don't dot them here and there like stoplights on a highway. Three blooms huddled together look like lost children, but 50 together command attention. "If you spread them out too much, you lose the impact of the moment," explains Allen.

Plan for a succession of blooms.
Dozens of different kinds of daffodils represent early-, mid-, and late-blooming types. Mix selections from each class to have daffodils blooming almost the entire spring. Moss Mountain Farm's daffodils flower from January through April, starting with 'Rijnveld's Early Sensation' and 'February Gold' and concluding with the later 'Pheasant's Eye' and 'Geranium.'

Plant in curves, not straight lines.
Curves are the way nature grows, so think in sweeps and swooshes instead of rows. Make the paths that pass through the bulbs curve too. Here, paths wide enough for strolling visitors weave side to side through the flowers. In addition to keeping the blooms from being stomped underfoot, the winding paths slow you down and expand the experience. "We decided from the beginning there would be no straight lines at all on the hill," says Allen. "You enter the path and wind your way along it like a labyrinth. It feels like meditation."

Use shrubs and trees as a backdrop for bulbs.
This adds vertical dimension to a display that might otherwise be flat. Allen likes combining daffodils with old-fashioned spring shrubs, such as baby's breath spiraea, pearl bush, forsythia, and flowering quince. " 'Rijnveld's Early Sensation' blooms beautifully with winter honeysuckle," he notes.

Try growing daffodils in containers.
This is a great way to get lots of punch from just a few dozen bulbs. You can move containers to wherever you need color on a particular day, be it your front door, porch, steps, or patio. As soon as the bulbs finish blooming, plant them in the garden. No bulbs are easier for container growing in the South. "If you've never tried bulbs in containers, daffodils are fail-safe," assures Allen.

Create a natural look.
"Naturalizing" daffodils means planting multiple types and colors in informal drifts, as if they'd planted themselves. Daffodils are ideal because many, such as 'Carlton,' 'Ice Follies,' and 'Barrett Browning,' form drifts on their own by making seeds and baby bulbs. Allen naturalizes them on grassy hills and meadows, throwing out a mixture of bulbs by hand and planting them where they land. He delays cutting the grass until the daffodil foliage yellows to ensure they'll bloom the next year.

We know—you want to plant them now. But the right time for planting daffodils is fall. However, you can start planning now by exploring the options at bulb websites such as brentandbeckysbulbs.com.

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