10 Daffy Tips for Daffodils
Here’s how to get the most from the South’s favorite bulbs.
Daffodils (Narcissus sp.) are quite simply the best bulbs for the South – and for much of the rest of the country too. They’re showy, easy to grow, good for cutting, come back year after year, and deer and rodents won’t eat them. (Rodents might dig up newly-planted bulbs, but they won’t chow down.) But getting the most out of them requires attention to a few details, like these.
Tip #1. For the most flowers year after year, plant in full to part sun and fertile, well-drained soil.
Tip #2. Plant bulbs in fall at depths three times deeper than the heights of the bulbs. The pointed ends go up.
Tip #3. Daffs need food just like other plants. Apply bulb fertilizer that contains slow-release nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. The highest number should be the middle one in the three-number analysis printed on the bag. It stands for the percentage of phosphorus, which promotes root growth. I like organic bulb fertilizers like Espoma Bulb-tone, Dr. Earth Spectacular Bulb Food, and Happy Frog Bulb Food, because they don’t burn and also contain beneficial soil microbes and fungi. Apply at the rate specified on the particular label. It’s good to do this at planting time (but don’t sweat if you didn’t last fall) and again in spring when the foliage pops up. Don’t feed with pure bone meal, fish emulsion, or blood meal. These products attract critters that will dig up your bulbs.
Tip #4. Don’t cut back the foliage until it yellows in late spring. The bulbs need it to make flowers for next year. Don’t braid the foliage either. Cutting off stems of spent flowers is optional. I leave them until they yellow because many kinds of daffs form seeds at the top that sprout on the ground and eventually make more daffodils.
WATCH: Grumpy Gardener's Guide to Daffodils
Tip #5. Unless you’re planting a naturalizing mix, plant in solid blocks or sweeps of a single color. You’ll get more impact that way. If your daffs will be viewed from a distance, plant kinds the produce the biggest and tallest flowers, like trumpet daffodils (‘Marieke,’ ‘Mount Hood,’ ‘Pistachio’), large-cupped daffodils (‘Accent,’ ‘Fortissimo,’ ‘Ice Follies’), or small-cupped daffodils (‘Barrett Browning,’ shown at top). Save small, short daffs (‘Tete-a-Tete’) for viewing close-up where you can appreciate their sweet fragrance.
Tip #6. Don’t cheap out. One daff here and one over there looks ridiculous. Plant in groups of at least 25.
Tip #7. For the longest lasting cut flowers, don’t cut them. Instead grasp the stem at its base among the leaves and snap it.
Tip #8. If you want to move or divide daffs, do it right as their foliage is dying down. If you wait until it disappears, you won’t know where they are.
Tip #9. If you decide to plant more daffodils this fall (and you will), place cheap wooden markers with the name of the daff and its color written on it where you’ll be planting. That way, you won’t dig into existing bulbs, and you can plan for color combinations and successive blooms.