How to grow daffodils
Daffodils are one of the most reliable spring-flowering bulbs, blooming year after year with little attention. They grow well in containers, borders and grass, with a wide range of flower shapes, forms and sizes to choose from, to brighten up your garden throughout spring.
- Easy-to-grow bulbs
- Flowering in spring
- Plant in September
- Ideal in containers, borders and naturalised grass
- Like well-drained soil in sun or light shade
- Long lived and low maintenance
All you need to know
What are daffodils?
Daffodils (Narcissus) are one of the most popular spring bulbs, typically with yellow or white flowers rising above long slender leaves. The distinctive flowers have six petal-like tepals, surrounding a central trumpet or corona.
They mainly originate in southern Europe and North Africa, although there is a native British species, Narcissus pseudonarcissus. Daffodils have been widely cultivated for centuries, resulting in the vast range now available, with various flower shapes, sizes and colours. Most are hardy, low maintenance and long lived, and they suit almost every style of garden, growing well in containers as well as in the ground.
How and what to buy
Daffodils are sold as dry
These are fleshy, rounded, underground storage organs, usually sold and planted while dormant. Examples include daffodils, tulips, hyacinths, lilies, onions and garlic. The term is often used to cover other underground storage organs, including corms, tubers and rhizomes.
Due to their huge popularity, daffodil bulbs and plants are readily available in a wide range of outlets, including garden centres, supermarkets, hardware stores and florists, as well as from many online suppliers, including RHS Plants.
For the widest choice of cultivars:
- browse the websites and catalogues of specialist bulb suppliers.
- use RHS Find a Plant, searching for 'narcissus', to see
descriptions, photos and supplier details. cultivar
Gardeners often use the word variety when referring to a specific plant, but the correct botanical term is 'cultivar'. Whichever word you use, it means a distinctive plant or plants, given a specific cultivar name and usually bred to enhance certain characteristics, such as flower or fruit size, colour, flavour or fragrance, plant size, hardiness, disease resistance, etc. Additionally, it is worth knowing that, botanically, variety has another meaning - it refers to a naturally-occurring distinct plant that only has slight differences in its looks. For example, Malva alcea var. fastigiata differs from typical plants by having an upright habit.
Botanically, daffodils are divided into 13 groups, or divisions, based mainly on their flower form – and bulb suppliers often use these divisions when listing their cultivars in catalogues and online. This makes it easier to compare daffodils with similar characteristics. For example, Group 7 (Jonquilla and Apodanthus Daffodil cultivars) are highly scented, while Group 9 (Poeticus Daffodil cultivars) are usually the latest to flower.
When buying bulbs in person:
- select the largest bulbs.
- squeeze them gently to make sure they're firm.
- avoid any bulbs showing signs of mould.
Daffodils are very quick and easy to plant, and ideal for any garden, however small.
- dig over the soil to loosen it and alleviated any compaction.
- remove any weeds.
- fork in plenty of organic matter to improve soil structure and drainage.
- add a general fertiliser at the rate recommended on the packet.
Where to plant
In the ground
Daffodils are very versatile and will grow in a wide range of soil types, but ideally they prefer a sunny spot in fertile, well-drained soil. Some cultivars will cope in light shade, particularly ‘Actaea’, 'Jenny’ and ‘Jack Snipe'.
Avoid planting daffodils in waterlogged soil and deep shade.
The smaller types, like 'Tête-à-tête', are ideal at the front of borders or naturalised in short grass, while taller cultivars such as 'Carlton' can be woven among other border plants or in bedding displays, or can be planted in long grass for a naturalistic look.
Daffodils are usually best planted in bold groups, rather than individually, for the greatest impact.
They can also be grown in cut-flower beds, so you can pick bunches of vibrant blooms to brighten up your home in spring. If you plant a range of species, you can have flowers to pick from February through to early May.
Daffodils grow well in containers, either on their own or mixed with other spring-flowering plants. Choose the smaller types, such as white-flowered 'Toto', for small pots, windowboxes and indoor displays. Taller cultivars create bigger impact in large containers.
See our guide to planting bulbs in containers.
When to plant
Plant daffodil bulbs in early autumn, ideally September, and potted bulbs in spring before they come into flower.
You can also plant 'forced' bulbs indoors in September – such as the fragrant paper-white daffodil (Narcissus papyraceus) – for flowering at Christmas or New Year. See our guide to growing bulbs for Christmas.
How to plant
Bulbs are quick and easy to plant. Just be sure to set them at the correct depth in the ground – equivalent to three times the bulb's height. This will help to ensure they flower well for many years to come.
When planting temporary spring displays in containers, you can plant less deeply and pack the bulbs closely together, for greatest impact. But do then transplant the bulbs into the garden after the display is over, planting more deeply.
Check out our easy-to-follow planting guides:
Daffodils are low maintenance and need little attention once settled in.
After planting daffodil bulbs or plants, water well to settle the soil or compost around the bulbs and get rid of any air pockets, especially if no rain is forecast.
After that, bulbs and plants in the ground shouldn't need additional watering, except in long dry spells during the growing season.
The compost in containers can dry out quickly, so bulbs in containers should be watered regularly throughout the growing season, until the foliage dies down.
New bulbs should flower well during their first year, but after that, especially in poorer soils, they may benefit from feeding in spring, just as the foliage starts to emerge. Apply a general fertiliser such as Growmore at a rate of 70g per sq m (2oz per sq yd), sprinkled evenly on the soil surface around the bulbs.
Give bulbs in containers a high-potassium liquid feed, such as tomato food, every seven to 10 days, to encourage flowering. Start once the shoots appear and stop once the foliage begins to die down at the end of the season.
Guide to looking after plants in containers
How to use fertilisers
Apply a thick mulch of organic matter, such as well-rotted garden compost, over the soil surface in autumn or spring. This well deter weeds and help to prevent the soil drying out, which can reduce flowering performance.
It is generally best to remove the faded blooms after flowering, so that instead of forming seeds, the plants put all their energy back into their bulb, for a good flowering display the following year. Deadheading also keeps the display looking its best.
However, with naturalistic drifts of bulbs, especially in grass, where you may want the daffodils to self-seed, you can leave the flowers in place to form seed pods.
Most daffodils are hardy and need no additional winter protection. If growing in containers, however, do make sure the compost doesn't become waterlogged in winter, as the bulbs may rot in cold wet conditions.
Caring for older plants
Daffodils are long-lived plants, and clumps will expand slowly over time as new bulbs are produced. However, if clumps become too congested, flowering may be reduced. In this case, simply dig up the clump, divide into smaller groups of bulbs and replant in several new locations, at a depth of three times the bulb's height.
Closely spaced bulbs in temporary spring containers are best planted in the ground after flowering is over.
Daffodil leaves should be allowed to photosynthesise for as long as possible, so they can fully replenish the energy reserves in the bulb, for a good flowering display the next year. If you remove the leaves too early, you may reduce flowering next spring.
Daffodils will naturally produce new bulbs over time, expanding the clump gradually. You can also propagate them by:
chipping the bulbs
For details of these methods, see our guide to propagating bulbs.
Daffodils are relatively trouble free, but look out for the following pests and diseases:
- slugs and snails may eat the foliage and flowers
- virus diseases
- narcissus basal rot and other rots, especially in damp conditions
- narcissus bulb fly
Daffodils may also fail to flower or produce smaller, paler flowers than normal. This can have various causes – see our guide to daffodil blindness for details.
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