Daffodil Dos & Don’ts

Ingeborg van Driel on the dos and don'ts of daffodils. 

Daffodils are a relaxed gardener’s dream come true!

To ensure daffodil success, look for bulbs that are firm to the touch – be sure to avoid scarred specimens. Bulbs without a papery cover (tunic) are perfectly acceptable. When not planting the bulbs immediately, keep them in a dry cool place (a fridge would be fine as long as it does not hold fruit, which releases ethylene that will fatally harm your bulbs). Note that rodents will not touch daffodil bulbs, which are toxic; some people are even allergic to handling them (wear gloves!).

Around the end of September, when the soil has cooled down to approximately 15 degrees C, it’s daffodil planting time. Planting for the following spring’s blooms can continue until the soil freezes. When in a hurry, simply dig a hole a minimum of three times deeper than the height of the bulbs (and ideally deeper than the length of your trowel blade); place the bulbs in the hole, pointed side up, about 10 centimetres apart. Refill the hole, water deeply – you’re ready for spring!

If you want your investment to last as long as possible, take some extra steps: 1. Carefully choose the location: Daffodils are lovers of rich soil and good drainage; they want to quietly remain in the same spot, and there many will naturalize (increase in number). Being gentle plants, they cannot compete for food with large and shallow roots of aggressive vegetation, so carefully position your daffodils. A good location would be just outside the drip line of a deeply rooted deciduous tree, which in summer will beneficially shade your dormant bulbs. In order to produce flowers again the following year, daffodil bulbs need to go to sleep naturally. This process takes six to eight weeks after flowering (although deadheading is recommended, braiding or folding of decaying leaves is not). If you feel that withering greenery has no place in your garden, follow the principle of what you don’t see won’t bother you – place spring bulbs behind fast-growing screens of later-appearing plants (perennials such as peonies, bearded and oriental irises, daylilies, annuals or even vegetables) or plant them in sunken containers which you can transfer to an inconspicuous spot later. Over-summering bulbs want to be dry – when placed in shade, no need to water!

2. Prepare the location before planting: Dig a hole about 30 centimetres deep; put original soil in a wheelbarrow or large container and mix with compost, well-rotted manure or well-rotted leaves (bone meal is often recommended, but it takes long for this fertilizer to be effective and dogs are attracted to its smell). Partly refill the hole and position the bulbs as described above. Water deeply. In colder areas apply a layer of mulch. 3. Long-term maintenance: In following years, once the foliage appears each spring, supply your daffodils with a sprinkling of 6-8-6 fertilizer. In winter, ashes from your fireplace are also welcome.