Native to Western Europe primarily, 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 shades of yellow and white, but you'll also find orange, salmon, peach, apricot, pink, green, and even red.
Gardeners tend to use the names daffodil, narcissus, and jonquil interchangeably. Technically, daffodil is the common name for the genus Narcissus in all forms, whereas jonquil denotes one type of narcissus, N. jonquilla and its hybrids. Jonquils have 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 11 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, but be sure they are not on the north side of taller plants that would shade them. They need sunlight to bloom year after year. Plant them in naturalistic, sweeping drifts. Grow them in containers. They make fine cut flowers, but it is best to pick them, breaking the stem at the base by hand, rather than with clippers. Give them a vase of their own; freshly cut stems release a substance that causes other cut flowers to wilt.
Following are the generally recognized divisions of daffodils and recommended selections in each division. While there are many more selections than space allows, these are certainly proven growers in Southern gardens. Some old favorites are no longer in production, but some new ones are ready to take their places in a spring garden.
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 classic type no longer in the market. Buying 'King Alfred' usually means planting 'Carlton', 'Dutch Master', or 'Golden Harvest' (susceptible to basal rot). Newer 'Arctic Gold', 'Dutch Master', 'Marieke', and 'Primeur' are superior yellows. The best pure white selection is 'Mount Hood'. Bicolors with white segments and a yellow trumpet include 'Bravoure', 'Holland Sensation', and 'Las Vegas'. 'Spellbinder' features yellow segments and a yellow-tipped white trumpet. 'Pay Day' and 'Pistachio' have a halo of white at the base of the trumpet but are otherwise yellow. For the earliest daffodils, plant 'Rijnveld's Early Sensation'.
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 'Carlton' (the second most numerous daffodil), 'Gigantic Star', and 'Saint Keverne' (a great choice for the Lower South). Solid whites include 'Misty Glen', 'Stainless', and 'White Plume'. Selections with white segments and a colored cup include 'Accent' (salmon-pink cup), 'Bella Vista' (red-orange cup), 'Garden Club of America' (coral-rimmed yellow cup), 'Ice Follies' (yellow cup), 'Pink Charm' (pink cup), 'Roulette' (yellow-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), 'Fortissimo' (orange cup), and 'Monal' (orange-red cup). 'Altun Ha' has yellow segments and a cup that turns white.
Small-cupped daffodils. The cup is no more than one-third the length of the perianth segments; one flower per stem. Selections include 'Angel' (white segments and white cup with green eye), '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 Smiles' (golden yellow), 'My Story' (white segments with pink), 'Erlicheer' (white segments with yellow), and 'Tahiti' (soft yellow with red segments).
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. 'Petrel' is pure white, 35 flowers per stem, and excellent fragrance. Old favorite 'Thalia' offers 23 elegant, pure-white, fragrant flowers per stem. 'Katie Heath' is white with pink cup; 'Ginter's Gem' is glowing yellow with orange at the base of the cup.
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), 'Jetfire' (yellow segments, red-orange cup), 'Rapture' (classic form, solid yellow), 'Surfside' (white segments, pale yellow cup turns white), and 'Wisley' (white segments, yellow cup).
Jonquilla hybrids. These are some of the best for the South, because they are native to the southern Mediterranean and accustomed to hot summers. 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' (the latest bloomer), 'Sweetness', and 'Baby Boomer' (all solid yellow). For color diversity, choose 'Blushing Lady' (yellow segments, pink cup), 'Beautiful Eyes' (white segments, orange cup), 'Pappy George' (yellow segments, orange cup), 'Sailboat' (white segments, pale yellow cup), and 'Sweet Smiles' (white segments, pink cup).
Tazetta and Tazetta hybrids. These are perennials in Lower and Coastal South gardens because they have little requirement for cold weather to bloom and they can be easily forced into bloom by gardeners at any latitude.
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 10F. 'Avalanche' ('Seventeen Sisters') produces clusters of 15 to 20 blossoms with white segments and a yellow cup. 'Aspasia' is a lovely heirloom with white segments and yellow cup. 'Falconet' and 'Martinette' feature yellow segments and a red-orange cup. 'Geranium' and 'Cragford' have 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 group of narcissus that are commonly forced into early bloom indoors. Plant them in bowls of pebbles or soil and give them cool temperatures (5060F) and bright light. 'Grand Soleil d'Or' has golden yellow segments and an orange cup, 'Wintersun' has white segments and a soft yellow cup, and pure white 'Ziva' has the strong fragrance and easy-to-force nature of the classic paperwhite. 'Inbal' has all the quality of 'Ziva' but with a more delicate fragrance and flatter cup.
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. 'Angel Eyes' is another good choice. These daffodils with a red-rimmed cup 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), 'Curly Lace' (all golden yellow with a ruffled cup), 'Exotic Mystery' (all greenish yellow), 'Mary Gay Lirette' (white segments, peachy pink cup), and 'Smiling Twin' (white segments, pale yellow cup) are some of the more readily available selections in this small but growing class.
Heirloom daffodils. 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 6in. tall. Small, upward-facing flowers are mostly trumpet shaped, 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 1618 in. tall.
N. jonquilla. JONQUIL. Semicylindrical, erect to spreading, rushlike leaves. Clusters of early, very fragrant, golden yellow flowers with short cups. To 1 ft. tall. Much like 'Baby Moon'.
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 daffodilsin cultivation since 1200 A.D. Grows to 1214 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.
Other daffodil selections. This category contains all types that don't fit the other divisions. 'Tte--Tte' (the most numerous daffodil) and 'Jumblie' (both yellow) have flowers like those of the Cyclamineus hybrids, but they are dwarf plants that reach a height of only 6 in.
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. For planting depth and spacing, see How To Grow Daffodils on page 447.
After the blossoms fade, let the leaves mature and yellow naturallyif 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 or 9-9-6 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 (when roots develop) at the rate specified on the bag, then scratch or water it in. Many gardeners are finding that the old-fashioned method of using compost at planting time and again in fall as a topdressing supplies the nutrients that bulbs need.
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.