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How to Care for a Daffodil Plant (Properly)

Amazing tea cup shaped daffodil flowers growing in a field

Genus Narcissus

I challenge you to find a person on this planet who doesn’t recognize a daffodil flower. These bulbous perennial plants are very well known amongst gardeners and even people who couldn’t care less for plants! They may seem simple, but they are a very welcomed splash of color in the early spring after the long winter.

Daffodils are known by other names by those who are serious gardeners, like jonquil or narcissus. The name narcissus comes from that man of vanity we all know from greek mythology, who drowned himself accidentally by looking too long at his reflection. How this relates to daffodils, I do not know.

The genus narcissus is home to about 50 species of flowering plants that have become naturalized all over the world. They are so prevalent that they even have their very own society of daffodil nerds called the American Daffodil Society!

Daffodils come from the amaryllis botanical family (amaryllideae) which is home to many bulbous plants, making them cousins with lilies! These hardy and sturdy perennials can be planted in nearly any application, and they bring an explosion of property to your property. Read on to learn all about where they come from, and how to grow your own!

What do Daffodils Plants Look Like?

Long sword leaves and happy yellow daffodil flowers

Growth Habit

Here’s a funny term to put in your pocket: bulbiferous geophyte (almost sounds like a cheeky insult). Bulbiferous geophyte refers to the fact that daffodils grow from underground bulbs that basically act as a storage facility for the plant. This allows them to go dormant in the long winter months, and quickly access moisture and nutrients once early spring comes back around and it’s time to grow again.

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From these bulbous roots grow a single, central, leafless and hollow flower stem. This is called a scape, or scapose variety if we’re being technical (like garlic or leeks). Stem height will vary from species to species, ranging from as short as 2 inches to as tall as 31 inches.

Daffodils exist as a perennial species, meaning that they will continue to blossom year after year each spring. They simply die back in the fall, go dormant over the winter months and sprout back up once the warm weather returns.

Flowers

From those flower stems grows the flowers we all know and love, daffodil flowers. Each daffodil flower will be either standing erect or bobbing down. They are comprised of 6, petal-like tepals that are surrounded by a corolla, which gives the flowers a general trumpet or teacup sitting on a saucer shape.

The perianth segments (fancy word for corolla and tepals) are usually white or light yellow, though there are some cultivars that have been bred to bear orange or pink flowers! There are even some that are white with frilly yellow tips.

Daffodil flowers will often bloom in the very early spring. They are usually the very first flower to grace the land with bright blossoms after the long sleep of winter. However, there are some varieties that are autumn blooming and will be one of the last flowers to bloom of the year!

Leaves

From that underground bulb we were talking about earlier, also comes daffodil leaves. Each leaf is long, narrow, and strap shaped. They are generally a deep green or blue/green color.

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What are Some Daffodil Species?

Beautiful bobbing heading of daffodil cultivars with orange cups

Cyclamen Daffodil

There is a grouping of daffodils called the cyclamineus daffodils which are known for their slightly unusual flower shape. These guys are native to Portugal and Spain.

Cyclamineus daffodils can be identified by their yellow pendant flowers that bloom in the early spring. The strange thing about their flower shape is that they are very long and narrow, and the outer perianth is fully folded back.

Ice Follies

Ice follies are more commonly known as large cupped daffodils, and they are a cultivar that is so lovely that they have awarded themselves the Wister Award by the American Daffodil Society.

They can be identified by their large flowers that are flared and creamy white petals with a frilly end of a light yellow color. Ice follies are also known for their very sweet and lovely fragrance. (This is an exceptional cut flower variety).

Dwarf Daffodils

Sometimes referred to as miniature narcissus, these miniature daffodils are by all means the exact same as the common daffodil, but they are tiny! The miniature daffodil still has that iconic yellow cup flower.

Miniature daffodils will only grow to be 4-6 inches in height and bear flowers that are only centimetres across. This growth habit makes them perfect for rock gardens and as perennial borders.

February Gold Daffodil

Gardeners love the February gold daffodil for several reasons. Firstly, they are very reliable growers and will just keep coming back every year even if they are totally ignored. That is thanks to that sturdy underground daffodil bulb!

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They are also loved because they are always the very first perennial to bloom, sometimes as early as February (duh, that is why they are so named) and they have a deep and delectable shade of yellow trumpet flowers with a dark orange cup.

Rush Daffodil

Narcissus jonquilla is a species of daffodil that is native to Spain and Portugal. Its main difference to others is that it tends to bloom in the late spring, and is sometimes referred to as trumpet daffodil.

With similar foliage and yellow petals or white petals, the main difference of narcissus jonquilla is its heavy clusters of flowers.

Where is the Daffodil a Native Plant?

Happy yellow daffodils growing in a forest meadow

Daffodil plants have been around for a very long time and have been recorded by humanity for many thousands of years for both their medicinal and ornamental uses.

Though it is not exactly known where they originated, they are known as native plants to Southern Europe, Northern Africa, the Western Mediterranean, and certain parts of Asia as well. They have become a staple ornamental and wild plant in North America as well (though they avoid the southernmost areas of the United States).

Daffodils can be found growing wild in a great variety of places and under a great variety of conditions. This makes it very easy for them to become naturalized in all sorts of areas, and can grow in all temperate regions of the world. They can thrive in USDA growing zones 3 through 10.

Growing wild, they can be found in low marshes, in meadows, pastures, and grasslands, along rocky hillsides and river beds with rocky crevices, as well as more damp sites like stream and spring margins, wet pastures and hillsides, and in forest clearings as well.

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What are the Growing Conditions of Daffodils?

Dense patch of happy yellow daffodils growing on a sunny day

Well, now that we’ve learned all there is to know about daffodil history and appearance, it’s time to learn how to take care of one. Luckily, maintaining their essential elements for growing can easily be accomplished by any gardener, it’s just getting them started that requires a little bit of effort.

Soil Type

Daffodils can become adaptable to nearly any soil type. They can handle acidic limestone soil, or they can handle more alkaline granite soil as well. However, they do have some ideal preferences.

They tend to perform best in soil that is well drained and moderately fertile. A simple way to accomplish this is by incorporating some compost into the mix. This will increase nutrient level as well as encourage proper drainage. One could also incorporate peat moss for high acidity in the soil.

Sun Exposure

Daffodils, like teenagers in the summer time, love to sunbathe. They are sun loving creatures and require a minimum of 6-8 hours of direct sunlight per day. That being said, they can tolerate partial shade as well.

The only risk with planting your daffodils in an area with less direct sunlight is that they may receive too much shade and that can cause a less enthusiastic bloom season.

Water Level

When it comes to watering, there really isn’t all that much that is required of you! Daffodils will do just fine with natural precipitation, and may only need supplemental watering if there is an extended period of drought. (Again, they are so drought tolerant thanks to those bulbs!)

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Daffodil plants seem to thrive when they are growing in regions that have very hot and very dry summers, as long as they have moist conditions in the early spring during their growing season. When the plants first bloom, make sure to keep their soil moist!

Amazing field of daffodils growing in the summer time

Temperature

Daffodils really aren’t picky about temperature. They can handle extreme heat and they can also handle extreme cold. These plants love hot summers and simply go dormant in the winter. This is why they can handle the harsh winters of North America.

That being said, they don’t like the hot and humid conditions of southern living, and will typically avoid regions in the United States that receive humid summers and warm winters.

Fertilizer

Though they don’t need it, daffodils can benefit from fertilizer. Simply incorporate a low nitrogen – high potassium fertilizer when you are first planting your daffodil bulbs, and then again at the beginning of the growing season.

Pruning

The one thing that is important to get right with daffodil plants is pruning them. They don’t need to be pruned while they are growing – as they are very neat and tidy plants – but they will need to pruned when their season is coming to an end.

Daffodil flowers should be deadheaded after their flowers have faded to maintain that tidy appearance. It is important to let the plant die off itself before picking away the dead leaves and stems. This is because their bulbs store their energy back into the bulbs to help them grow the next season.

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How do you Propagate your own Daffodil?

Young daffodil plants sprouting out a mulch mound in the early spring

Though it won’t be as easy as tossing a handful of seeds and walking away, growing daffodils is a pretty simple feat. They are propagated by planting bulbs, and here are the simple steps to get your own daffodil patch started:

1. Wait until the late fall to plant bulbs. The ideal time is about 2 weeks before the ground is due to freeze.

2. Choose an area on your property that has well draining soil and receives full sun.

3. Dig holes about 3-6 inches apart from one another. Take your daffodil bulbs with the pointed end up and plant them quite deep – twice as deep as the bulb is long.

4. You can sprinkle the holes with that fertilizer we talked about earlier to help them along in the early spring.

5. And that’s it! If it is expected to be a particularly harsh winter, you can also cover the top soil with a thick layer of mulch to help keep the bulbs a little bit warm.

How is a Daffodil Plant Used?

Incredible ornamental garden with yellow daffodils and yellow tulips

Ornamental Plant

There isn’t much that daffodils can’t do for your garden. They are reliable, hardy perennials that are the first to bloom in your garden, they are lovely, don’t require much from you, and once they are planted they are pretty much there to stay.

They are great for planting in rock gardens, in garden beds or as border plants, they are great for container plantings, and are also wonderful for planting under deciduous trees (trees that lose their leaves once fall comes). Additionally, thanks to those long and sturdy stems, daffodils make for amazing cut flowers for a spring bouquet.

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Medicinal Plant

Something that not everybody knows about daffodils, is that they also have some medicinal value to them! They are a long-time medicinal flowering plant that has been used as such for many centuries.

Daffodil leaves, flowers, and bulbs, can all be ingested for medicinal purposes (though always do your research and consult a professional before doing this yourself). When ingested, they are said to help alleviate coughs, colds, and asthma, and if applied topically, they are said to help relieve wounds, strains, joint pain, and burns.

Focus image on stunning daffodil flowers growing in a cluster

FAQs

Are daffodils deer resistant?

Lucky for gardeners, daffodil flowers are entirely toxic to deer and other large pests like squirrels and rabbits. So you don’t have to worry about your patch being nibbled on by those furry friends!

What are the damaging agents of daffodils?

One downside to daffodils is that they are quite susceptible to various pests and diseases. When planted in poorly drained soil that can experience bulb-rot and will develop fungal diseases on their leaves. They are also susceptible to invasions from fly larvae, mites, and nematodes.

Are daffodils annual plants or perennial plants?

Daffodils exist as a perennial species, meaning that they will continue to blossom year after year each spring. They simply die back in the fall, go dormant over the winter months and sprout back up once the warm weather returns.

Do daffodils grow from bulbs?

Here’s a funny term to put in your pocket: bulbiferous geophyte (almost sounds like a cheeky insult). Bulbiferous geophyte refers to the fact that daffodils grow from underground bulbs that basically act as a storage facility for the plant. This allows them to go dormant in the long winter months, and quickly access moisture and nutrients once early spring comes back around and it’s time to grow again.

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Can daffodils be grown indoors?

Though they can be grown indoors as houseplants if their essential elements for growth are maintained (well draining soil, full sun) it is a little bit more tricky to create that essential cold period for their bulbs to go dormant. This can be done by bringing them to a balcony or into a cold cellar once fall arrives.

Can I grow a daffodil in a pot?

Daffodils can easily be grown in a pot as long as that pot has a drainage hole, and the bulbs have at least a couple inches of space from one another. The only thing is that the bulbs will have to be divided eventually if they are planted in a pot.

Can daffodils grow in shade?

Daffodils, like teenagers in the summer time, love to sunbathe. They are sun loving creatures and require a minimum of 6-8 hours of direct sunlight per day. That being said, they can tolerate partial shade.

The only risk with planting your daffodils in an area with less direct sunlight is that they may receive too much shade and that can cause a less enthusiastic bloom season.

How should daffodils be pruned?

The one thing that is important to get right with daffodil plants is pruning them. They don’t need to be pruned while they are growing – as they are very neat and tidy plants – but they will need to pruned when their season is coming to an end.

Daffodil flowers should be deadheaded after their flowers have faded to maintain that tidy appearance. It is important to let the plant die off itself before picking away the dead leaves and stems. This is because their bulbs store their energy back into the bulbs to help them grow the next season.

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Will a daffodil plant survive winter?

Daffodils really aren’t picky about temperature. They can handle extreme heat and they can also handle extreme cold. These plants love hot summers and simply go dormant in the winter. This is why they can handle the harsh winters of North America.

That being said, they don’t like the hot and humid conditions of southern living, and will typically avoid regions in the United States that receive humid summers and warm winters.

When does a daffodil flower bloom?

Daffodil flowers will often bloom in the very early spring. They are usually the very first flower to grace the land with bright blossoms after the long sleep of winter. However, there are some varieties that are autumn blooming and will be one of the last flowers to bloom of the year, and others that bloom in the late spring!

How tall do daffodils get?

Daffodil height varies greatly from species to species, with a miniature daffodil only reaching heights of 3-6 inches, and others that can get to be over 31 inches!

Do daffodils need fertilizer?

Though they don’t need it, daffodils can benefit from fertilizer. Simply incorporate a low nitrogen – high potassium fertilizer when you are first planting your daffodil bulbs, and then again at the beginning of the growing season.

How often should a daffodil be watered?

When it comes to watering, there really isn’t all that much that is required of you! Daffodils will do just fine with natural precipitation, and may only need supplemental watering if there is an extended period of drought. (Again, they are so drought tolerant thanks to those bulbs!)

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Daffodil plants seem to thrive when they are growing in regions that have very hot and very dry summers, as long as they have moist conditions in the early spring during their growing season. When the plants first bloom, make sure to keep their soil moist!

Are daffodils invasive?

Though they are very sturdy and grow from enthusiastic bulbs, daffodils are actually not an invasive species, meaning that they don’t take over growing sites of other native plants causing detriment to their population.

What USDA growing zone can daffodils grow in?

Daffodils can be found growing wild in a great variety of places and under a great variety of conditions. This makes it very easy for them to become naturalized in all sorts of areas, and can grow in all temperate regions of the world. They can thrive in USDA growing zones 3 through 10.

When should daffodil bulbs be planted?

Daffodil bulbs should be planted in the fall. Wait until about 2 weeks before the ground is due to freeze, and plant bulbs deep into the soil so that they can go dormant during the winter. Cover the soil with a thick layer of mulch if it’s due to be a very cold winter.