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How to Care For Daffodils (Narcissus)

Last Updated on September 16, 2022 by Plant Mom Care

Narcissus or daffodil, a genus of perennial flowering plants, belongs to the Amaryllidaceae family. They are indigenous to Europe, with over 50 species and 32,000 registered hybrid cultivars. 

The genus was well known and cultivated for its medicinal and botanical properties by the ancient Greeks, while the Romans valued the genus for their enticing perfume, according to Roman naturalist and author Pliny the Elder.

Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus formally described the genus in Species Plantarum (1753). Popular cultivation began in Europe during the 1400s and bulb production became profitable commercially among the low countries of northwest Europe such as the Netherlands by the late 1800s.

These plants are mostly perennials and grow from bulbs in spring. Depending on species or hybrid type, flowers appear individually or in clusters of almost 20 on top of long, narrow tubular stems, with green flat leaves arising from the plant’s base in heights from 2 inches to 4 feet. New plants usually have 2 leaves but mature ones can have 3 or 4 in some instances.

The eye-catching flowers of six outer tepals are transcended by a trumpet- or cup-shaped corona. The flowers are white or yellow but also come in pink, orange, and coral in some varieties, with similar or contrasting colored coronas and tepals. The seed capsule splits open when mature to release many black seeds. 

Flower life differs by species and growing conditions between 5–20 days. The bulb becomes dormant when the foliage and stems die back and its roots contract to pull it further down in the soil. Most species, except N. tazetta, have to be exposed to cold before growing back in spring when warmer temperatures initiate new growth. Most species flower in spring, although a few flower in autumn.

The flowers are celebrated in literature and art, featured in many spring festivals, are denoted the national flower for Wales, and are a symbol of several cancer charity organizations. These plants are outstanding flowering ornamentals to cultivate in gardens or when wild and cultivated plants are naturalized in meadows, woodlands, and lawns. Daffodils are long-lived and self-propagate by division, but can also be insect-pollinated by bees, butterflies, moths, and flies. 

While the Amaryllidaceae family are mostly tropical or subtropical, Narcissus largely grows around the Mediterranean region, with the focus on diversity in Spain and Portugal.

They have been introduced during ancient times in Asia and middle and northern Europe. While they are not native to North America, they have done well in most of Canada and the US. Some species are now extinct, while others are being threatened by urbanization and tourism.

Their native environments vary and they are found growing in places ranging from marshes, rocky hillsides, pastures, grasslands, woods, rocky crevices, and river banks. 


Daffodil Light Requirements

These plants thrive under full sun, although they can also grow under slight shade or diffused light. If your garden has a lot of shade, plant the bulbs in a spot that gets more light since the flowers grow facing the sun.


Daffodil Watering

They should be regularly watered when new growth appears in spring and when they are planted in fall. If they don’t get covered with snow, the bulbs will have to be watered in the winter. Stop watering the plants once the flowers and foliage die since the plants become dormant in summer and prefer a drier soil. 


Daffodil Humidity

They generally don’t need extra humidity. N. dubius thrives in locales with dry and hot summers while the wild daffodil group, N. Pseudonarcissus, prefers humid conditions as they grow near streams, springs, and wet pastures.


Daffodil Temperature

Temperature demands vary among the many varieties, but most plants can tolerate hardiness zones of 4 to 9, although some prefer zones 8 to 11 – however, once temperatures drop below 25°F, their leaves and flowers will freeze.

Most varieties require a period of cold for roots to set, the reason why they’re usually planted in fall, but a few varieties can grow in warm climates, particularly if they are watered sufficiently. Water whenever the soil is dry.


Daffodil Soil

They prefer neutral to somewhat acidic soils (pH 6.0), although some grow on limestone and granite soils. They grow well with rich and moist soil but they require good drainage or the bulbs will rot. Since they can live for years, you should plant them in a spot with good drainage capacity where they won’t get water-logged.


Daffodil Repotting

They can grow well for up to three years in containers provided the containers are deep enough to allow their roots to fill out – 2 gallon capacity for standard varieties and 1 gallon capacity for smaller varieties, make sure the containers have plenty of drainage holes after that, remove the bulbs and divide them before repotting. 


Daffodil Propagation

They self-propagate from new bulbs forming on the main bulb, simply dividing these new bulbs every 3 to 5 years gives you more plants with little effort.

Cut the foliage back when it yellows and starts to dry, usually 6 or 8 weeks after the flowers fade. Push a garden fork around 4 inches from the clump to lift the bulbs. Work loose the soil and separate the bulbs carefully. Inspect the bulbs and dispose of damaged or shriveled bulbs.

Bulbs larger than 1 1/2 inches in width will usually flower in spring, while smaller ones might take two years to flower. Plant the separated bulbs flat side down in a spot that gets full sunlight or into containers with sufficient drainage capacity. Water lightly in summer and fall so the soil doesn’t dry completely. New growth will emerge in late winter or spring.

Additional Care

These plants are self-sufficient with rich soil, but poor soil or if they don’t flower properly, feed them lightly when the leaves appear. Repeat this when they start to flower.

Don’t cut the leaves until they die as the bulbs will continue to store energy and nutrients to create flowers the next year. 

Daffodil Common Problems

Sometimes the plants will have healthy leaves but won’t flower. This is most likely because they lack nutrients or overcrowding. Bulbs shallow-planted can also make flower buds die. Dig the bulbs up after the foliage dies to separate and replant them, providing more space between each bulb to allow them to spread and make sure to replant them 6 inches deep under the soil. Inadequate light could also prevent them from flowering – they should get at least half a day worth of sunlight or more if they grow in partial shade.

Cutting off the leaves robs vital energy from the bulbs resulting in fewer flowers and poor foliage growth in spring. Wait for the leaves to naturally die, around eight weeks when flowering ends before cutting them away.

Sometimes warm weather in late autumn or winter will lead to the bulbs prematurely sprouting. Too little cold could result in poor flower and leaf and shorter flower stalks in spring. You can help bulbs adapt to mild winter climates by storing them in your refrigerator for several weeks before planting them.

As with all plants, water-logged soil or poor drainage often leads to rotting causing deformed/discolored foliage or flowers. Inspect the bulbs for rotting and discard rotted bulbs. These plants should have well-drained soil and light watering (if necessary) just for three weeks after flowering. If you’ve planted them among other plants, dig the bulbs out once the foliage is dead. Clean and dry the bulbs and store them in a dry location with good ventilation until it’s time to plant them. 

These plants usually don’t attract pests, but, bulb mites, bulb flies, and aphids can sometimes be a problem. For flies and mites, discard any bulbs that have signs of infestation or soft spots. Mulch the soil and till the soil lightly in spring to help prevent infestations. Aphids can be sprayed away from the plants. 

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