How To Grow And Care For Daffodils

Looking for easy-to-grow bulbs that come back every year? Here is your plant.

Native to Europe and North Africa, the daffodil (Narcissus) is arguably the finest and most valuable spring bulb for the South. They are long-lived, increasing naturally yearly. These flowers stand up to cold and heat and have many garden uses. Daffodils 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). 

These flowers offer a fascinating array of flower forms, sizes, and colors. Flowering begins in winter in the Lower and Coastal South and early spring elsewhere. The primary colors are yellow and white, but you'll also find shades of orange, apricot, pink, cream, and even red. Rodents and deer won't eat them, though people and pets should be careful, as daffodils are toxic.

Plant Attributes

Plant Attributes
 Common Name:  Daffodil, Narcissus
 Botanical Name:  Narcissus
 Family:  Amaryllidaceae
 Plant Type:  Perennial, Bulb
 Mature Size:  6–30 in. tall, 6–12 in. wide
 Sun Exposure:  Full, Partial
 Soil Type:  Moist but Well-drained, Rich
 Soil pH:  Acidic to Neutral (6.0 to 7.0)
 Bloom Time:  Winter, Spring
 Flower Color:  Pink, Orange, Yellow, White
 Hardiness Zones:  Zones 3-8 (USDA)
 Native Area:  Europe, Africa
 Toxicity:  toxic to dogs, toxic to cats, toxic to pets, toxic to people

Daffodil Care

Gardeners 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.

Given minimal care at planting, all thrive with virtually no further attention. Daffodils do not require summer watering (although they'll accept it) and need only infrequent division. Water regularly during growth and blooming, which occur only once a year. After blooming, dig up the bulbs and store them for the following year.


Daffodils need at least six hours of direct sunlight daily. These flowers tolerate partial sun, but when planting, know that daffodils typically grow facing the sun.


Daffodils bulbs are prone to rotting, so plant them in well-draining soil with a neutral or slightly acidic pH. These flowers also grow in containers filled with potting soil. Grow daffodils under high-branching trees and flowering shrubs, among ground cover plantings, in woodland and rock gardens, or borders. Keep the soil loose or loamy with rich fertile ingredients.


These flowers need a lot of water while growing—about an inch a week through manual watering or rainfall. While daffodils need water to establish, these plants are relatively easy to maintain because you can stop watering after a few weeks of blooming. Check the soil with your hands to determine if more water is necessary.

Temperature and Humidity

As perennial flowers, daffodils bloom in the spring and mature to about one and a half feet tall. These flowers need moderate temperatures from 60°F to 70°F. Daffodils are winter hardy but dig up bulbs after blooming and store them indoors in areas that experience prolonged frost and cold weather.


Like other plants, narcissus bulbs need food. Use a fertilizer low in nitrogen about six weeks before flowering, such as a 3-6-6 or a 5-10-10—about one-fourth cup per square foot of growing area. Do not place this fertilizer directly on the bulbs. Other fertilizers with controlled-release nitrogen mix well into the soil during planting time. After establishing daffodils, sprinkle bulb fertilizer over the bulb bed each fall at the rate specified on the bag, then scratch or water it.

Types of Daffodils

There are thousands of cultivars and many Narcissus species. Daffodil varieties have unique shapes, sizes, and colors, classified into 13 divisions. The divisions include Trumpet, Large-cupped, Small-cupped, Double, Triandrus, Cyclamineus, Jonquilla, Tazetta, Poeticus, Bulbocodium, Split-cupped, Miscellaneous, and wild variants. Here are some specific daffodil varieties, often seen growing throughout the South:

  • 'Angel's Tears' (N. triandrus): Clusters of small white or pale yellow flowers on stems to 10-inch rushlike foliage.
  • 'Pheasant's Eye'(N. poeticus recurvus): An old favorite that matures to one foot tall. Small yellow cup with green central "eye" and red rim and pure white, reflexed segments.
  • 'Lent Lily' (N. pseudonarcissus): One of the oldest daffodils―in cultivation since 1200 a.d. Grows to 12–14 inches tall with long yellow cups and twisted yellow perianth segments that sweep forward, giving the blossoms a dog-eared look.
  • 'Twin Sisters' (N. medioluteus): Grows to 14 inches tall, bearing two flowers per stem with white segments and small yellow cups. It's a very late bloomer, usually the last daffodil of the season.
  • 'Hoop Petticoat Daffodil' (N. bulbocodium): Grows six inches tall. Small, upward-facing flowers are mostly trumpet, with very narrow, pointed perianth segments. Deep and pale yellow selections are available. It spreads by seed, making it a good choice for naturalizing.
  • 'Jonquil' (N. jonquilla): Semicylindrical, erect to spreading, rushlike leaves. Clusters of early, very fragrant, golden yellow flowers with short cups growing to one foot tall.


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. Leaving foliage on the plants allows bulbs to restore—typically around eight weeks after flowers bloom. 

Dividing is part of daffodil maintenance when flowers overgrow and fill the space. 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.

Daffodils also make an excellent cut flower but only include other daffodils in the vase. Freshly cut stems release a substance that causes other cut flowers to wilt.

Propagating Daffodils

Since daffodils grow from bulbs, a division is an easy and effective way to propagate these flowers. A division isn't necessary every year. After establishing plants, keep daffodils healthy by dividing them around every four years or when plants overcrowd the growing area. Here's how to propagate daffodils through division:

  1. After daffodils are yellow and begin to dry—typically around six to eight weeks after flowers die—cut back plant foliage to three inches. 
  2. Use a garden fork to dig around the daffodil bulb—about four inches from the plant's base. Carefully remove the daffodil clump without damaging the bulbs. It might take some time for the soil to loosen from the ground. 
  3. Shake off excess dirt and inspect the bulbs for damage or soft spots. Discard unusable bulbs. 
  4. Gently break new bulbs away from the parent bulb, which is the largest. Break away bulbs by twisting two bulbs in the opposite direction until they snap. Bulbs with the best chance to bloom the following year are typically more than one and a half inches in diameter—smaller bulbs will take longer. 
  5. You can replant new bulbs immediately at 10 to 12 inches apart and a depth at least three times the bulb's width or store bulbs for the following season—water plant until establishing. 
  6. Store bulbs in a cool dark area if you want to save bulbs for the following year. Plant bulbs as soon as they are available in the fall, at least two to four weeks before the ground freezes. They should feel solid and heavy and be free of discoloration. "Double-nose" bulbs will give you the most and biggest flowers in the first season after planting.

How to Grow Daffodil From Seed

Growing a daffodil from seeds is more challenging than starting with bulbs, but it is still possible. Growing from seeds also takes longer—usually five or six years. Begin by harvesting seeds from daffodil pods after the flowers fade. You will know it is time when the pods are brown and shriveling. Break open seeds gently with your fingers or a clean, sharp knife. Keep seeds in a cool, dark area until the fall, when you can plant the seeds about half an inch deep in a seed starting tray or small container. Fill the containers with potting mix and allow seeds to germinate into seedlings. Continue growing in the seed starting tray for about three years until small bulbs emerge that need transplanting into larger containers.

Potting and Repotting Daffodils

If starting bulbs indoors, set bulbs close together—but not touching—in a pot for early bloom indoors with their tips level with the soil surface. Make sure to choose a container deep enough for the roots to expand. Place the pot in a well-drained trench or a cold frame and cover it with six to eight inches of potting mix combined with sand, chopped leaves, or pine straw. 

Keep the container in a cool, dark area with moderate temperatures. Temperatures should remain around 40°F to 45°F for about three months, and the soil should remain moist. When yellow shoots emerge, look for roots in eight to 10 weeks, carefully remove the soil mass from the pot and move to a cool room or greenhouse to watch for blooms. After shoots are green, the container can move to a warmer location—about 60°F to 70°F—and topped with fertilizer. Continue watering, and after the flowers fade, wait for yellowing leaves to remove the bulbs and begin again. 


Depending on the environmental condition and species type, daffodils are relatively resilient in cold weather. These flowers only require a little maintenance during the winter, but adding a layer of mulch is beneficial in areas with no snow cover to help control moisture.

Common Pests & Plant Diseases

The most serious pest is the narcissus bulb fly. An adult fly resembles a small bumblebee. The female lays eggs on the leaves and 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. The narcissus bulb fly is only one of the pests that impact daffodils. Other pests include bulb mites which are more likely to attack daffodils growing indoors, and nematodes, which, when found in the soil, means transplanting to a new location might be necessary.

One disease that affects daffodils is bulb rot, which occurs when planting flowers in soggy or poorly draining soil. Other types of rot and blight are present in daffodil plants when improper water, sunlight, or soil nutrients impacts the flower's health.

How to Get Daffodils to Bloom

Daffodils are consistent bloomers when maintaining proper food storage levels in the bulbs. Wait to remove foliage until it dies back naturally because cutting leaves off too soon will prevent daffodils from replenishing the plant for next year after flower blooms fade. Removing foliage will also cause bulbs to be less strong the following year. When planting daffodil bulbs, plant them correctly and only use mature bulbs. After dividing bulbs from the parent plant, small bulbs take longer to bloom. Fertilizers can assist in daffodil development, but be careful not to overfertilize an area and to maintain proper sun exposure. 

Common Problems With Daffodils

Daffodils experience very few issues, but these perennial bloomers still encounter some challenges.

Leaves Turning Black/Brown

In extreme weather conditions, daffodil buds may turn brown and dry out before blooming. Brown buds can occur in climates that are too hot or cold. Additionally, not maintaining enough moisture throughout the growing season can impact the foliage and blooms. Brown leaves can sometimes split, but adding a layer of organic mulch around the base and bulbs after the ground freezes helps. 

Leaves Turning Yellow

Yellowing leaves can occur if the viral disease stripe is present. Unfortunately, this disease has no cure, so you will need to dig up and discard the daffodils bulbs. Aphids are a pest that carries this virus, so preventing exposure to the pest helps avoid the disease.

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