Daffodils are Dependable Spring Bulbs
This time of year gardeners are inundated with spring-flowering bulb catalogs containing gorgeous pictures, a huge selection, and reasonable prices. Over the years I’ve bought many different types of bulbs, but with one exception I’ve had little success. Tulips are beautiful at first, but disappear after a couple of years. Crocuses bloom well enough, but their flowers are too small to be noticed unless you’re up close and personal. Once I had some success forcing a few hyacinths to bloom indoors, and was so proud I took them to work. My boss made me throw them out because the intense fragrance caused headaches down the hall. So even that success became a failure.
The singular exception to this tragicomedy has been daffodils (Narcissus sp.). A few years ago I planted ‘King Alfred’ daffodils by the front door in a small patch covered with bugleweed (Ajuga reptans). The daffodils reappear each spring and have multiplied to fill the bed. If temperatures remain moderate the blooms last up to 3 weeks. A month or so later dainty blue flowers on the bugleweed take your attention away from fading daffodil foliage.
We love to cut daffodils for indoors, but removing flowers from this front door bed reduces the gorgeous display that greets our guests. We needed another planting that wouldn’t be in view so we could cut to our hearts’ content. A bed on the west side in partial shade sounded ideal: it had recently been renovated with PeeGee hydrangeas surrounded by English Ivy.
I tried to buy more ‘King Alfred’ daffodils, but couldn’t find them anywhere. Evidently many different trumpet daffodil varieties have been sold as ‘King Alfred’ for over a century. A recent agreement among producers eliminated the name (and hopefully the confusion) from the marketplace. So I purchased 100 ‘Dutch Master’ bulbs instead, and planted them in the ivy. The following spring 1 or 2 flower stalks emerged from each bulb, providing all the cut flowers we could use. And a couple of months later the dying foliage was out of sight.
Planting and care. The major requirement for daffodils is well-drained soil. They will grow well in areas that only have only morning or afternoon sunshine, or in full sun. Planting groups of bulbs of the same variety makes a more striking display than several different varieties bunched together.
Daffodils like a slightly acidic soil with a pH between 6 and 7. Loosen the soil and work in some organic matter (but not fresh manure). Don’t leave daffodil bulbs out where kids or pets might eat them, as they can cause severe stomach upsets. Plant 4 to 6 inches deep (measured from the bottom of the bulb) any time from September through Thanksgiving. Work a light application of a complete fertilizer low in nitrogen (like 5-10-5) into the top inch or two of the soil after planting, making sure the fertilizer doesn’t touch the bulbs. The American Daffodil Society says to “forget the bone meal; it takes too long to break down to ever be beneficial.” Fertilize lightly again when the leaves are a couple of inches high in early spring. In subsequent years fertilize just once in either spring or fall.
Cut spent flower stalks to the ground to force the plant to concentrate on storing food in the bulb for the following year. Allow the leaves to grow until they turn yellow and dry up, then cut off at the base of the plant. If after several years the flowers become fewer and smaller, dig up the bulbs after the foliage has died and divide them. Store in a cool, dry place, then replant in fall.
Jim Janke is an Extension Master Gardener Volunteer in Haywood County. For more information call the Haywood County Extension Center at 828-456-3575. © 2013 NC State University.