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Daffodil Bulbs

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Picture of a yellow daffodil.

Picture of a yellow Narcissus.

David Beaulieu

Plant Taxonomy of Daffodil Bulbs:

Plant taxonomy classifies daffodils as Narcissus. The genus name, Narcissus derives from the name of the youth in Greek mythology who died while leaning over a pool of water, transfixed by his own image (the flower that later sprung up from the spot was named "Narcissus").

Plant Type:

Daffodils are spring bulb plants grown for their flowers.

Characteristics:

Because many of these bulbs produce fragrant, cheerful flowers in early spring, they are prized as heralds of better weather in cold climates. In fact, a nickname for daffodils is "Lent lilies," as their re-emergence coincides, in some regions, with the Catholic season of Lent.

Daffodils are one of our most recognizable flowers. What child isn't fascinated by the proboscis-like coronas of the yellow trumpet types, protruding from a sun face with 6 yellow petals? But these flowers come in various sizes, shapes and colors, including miniatures and those with cups rather than trumpets. Foliage is sword-shaped.

Planting Zones:

Indigenous mainly to the Mediterranean, daffodils will grow in planting zones 4-9.

Sun and Soil Requirements:

Grow in full sun and in a well-drained, friable, slightly acidic soil.

But the full-sun requirement isn't as difficult to meet (especially the earliest blooming varieties) as it is for many plants, since daffodils bloom in spring, meaning they can be grown under deciduous trees. Daffodils get enough sun in the spring (before the trees leaf out) to grow and acquire the nutrients they need for the growing season. But don't plant them under evergreen trees, since the latter cast shade during the entire year and would deprive your daffodils of the necessary springtime sunlight.

Care:

Plants spread over time and eventually become too crowded, after which flowering declines. You have 2 choices to remedy this:

  1. Dig daffodil bulbs for storage when leaves turns brown; re-install in flower beds in fall
  2. Divide the bulbs in fall every 5 years

#2 is less work. If you select #1, hang the daffodil bulbs in a mesh onion bag in a cool, dark place with good ventilation.

For the sake of plant nutrition, leave the foliage alone after blooming, at least until the leaves turn yellow. If the ratty foliage bothers you, disguise it by interplanting with, e.g., stella de oros.

Uses:

Few flowers are better suited to woodland gardens. Some types (e.g., Carlton) naturalize well. Since they require well-drained soil, also consider growing them in rock gardens.

Daffodils and Wildlife:

Late-blooming types with strong fragrance are among the plants that attract butterflies. But it's what these bulbs don't attract that's more important, perhaps....

Squirrels make major pests of themselves digging up and eating tulip bulbs, crocus corms, etc. A selling point for daffodil bulbs is that squirrels tend not to eat them (squirrels may, however, dislodge your bulbs). Furthermore, daffodils are deer-resistant plants, owing to the toxicity of the leaves -- a fact to keep in mind if you have small children around. Other deer-resistant bulbs include Siberian squill.

How to Plant:

Plant in fall. Some types are fussier than others about chilling requirements; a trusted local nursery will sell types suitable for your area and suggest optimal planting time.

Plant depth should be 2-3 time bulb height. The pointy part should face up. Some fertilize at planting time with bone meal. Others say bone meal is unnecessary at this time and invites pests to dig around, which could dislodge your daffodil bulbs. If this is a concern, lay chicken wire on top of the ground after planting. Or you could hold off on the bone meal till spring and just use some compost when planting.

Jonquils and Paperwhites Are Also "Daffodils":

The American Daffodil Society recommends "daffodil" as "the common name for all members of the genus Narcissus." Since jonquils and paperwhites are classified as Narcissus flowers, they, too, can be called "daffodils."

The ADS explains just what constitutes a "jonquil":

"As a rule, but not always, jonquil species and hybrids are characterized by several yellow flowers, strong scent, and rounded foliage."

Another term you'll hear is "Paperwhites." Paperwhites are also part of the genus, Narcissus and may also be referred to simply as white "daffodils."




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