Nothing heralds spring like the cheerful daffodil! These sunshine-yellow flowers emerge at winter’s end to lift our spirits. Plus, daffodils are deer- and rodent-resistant bulbs (unlike tulips)! Learn more about how and when to plant daffodils—and the delightful variety of choices, from the classic yellow variety to mini daffodils.
Daffodils are hardy perennials that come back year after year, spreading and often naturalizing. They are fall-planted bulbs usually planted in October, and the flowers bloom in late winter or early spring. (They are the March birth flower, after all!) Most daffodils grow easily in most regions of North America, except in the hottest, wettest areas, such as South Florida.
There are thousands of daffodil varieties. The traditional daffodil flower may be a showy yellow or white, with six petals and a trumpet-shaped central corona. Still, many cultivated varieties (“cultivars”) exist today if you fancy experimenting with a more exotic double, frilled, or bicolor narcissus.
Daffodils are suitable for planting between shrubs, on a border, or even in pots. We especially love daffodils in a woodland garden and large groves. You’ll find that many gardeners plant the bulbs not just by the dozens but by the hundreds! Daffodil flowers can also be forced inside to add cheer to the winter months, making great springtime cut flowers.
Choosing Daffodil Bulbs
Select high-quality daffodil bulbs that have not been dried out. The larger the bulb, the better.
DutchGrown™ bulbs are of the highest quality, ensuring optimum performance. You probably haven’t seen daffodils bigger than their top-sized daffodils bulbs. See where to buy daffodils bulbs.
Daffodils do best in full sun, though they will grow in partial shade. They’re generally not picky about soil, but good drainage is vital as they are susceptible to rot when kept too wet. Hillsides and raised beds work well. Otherwise, improve clay soil by amending it (12 inches deep) with organic material such as well-rotted compost.
When to Plant Daffodils
Plant daffodil bulbs in the fall—at least 2 to 4 weeks before the ground freezes. See local frost dates.
How to Plant Daffodils
Plant the bulb with the top (pointy end) set about 2 to 3 times as deep as the bulb is tall. For example, the top of a 2-inch bulb should be about 4 inches in the ground, while a 3-inch bulb should be planted 5 to 6 inches deep.
Where winters are severe, make sure there are at least 3 inches of soil covering the bulb.
Daffodils will tolerate crowding, but they prefer to be placed about 3 to 6 inches apart.
Resist the temptation to uncover spring-flowering plants such as daffodils and tulips. You can loosen mulch, but the shoots will still benefit from protection against cold, drying winds in early spring.
Daffodils contain something called oxalic acid—a substance that makes them unpalatable to most rodent pests. However, if yours are being bothered, consider adding sharp pieces of shells or a pelleted rodent deterrent into and around each planting hole.
Water late-flowering daffodils in dry spring weather (flowers may abort in dry conditions).
Lift and divide the clumps when flowering becomes sparse or the clumps congested.
After Daffodils Bloom
After the flowers fade, you can deadhead (pinch off) the faded flowers.
However, do NOT remove the leaves until they turn yellow. Daffodils use their leaves to store energy in the bulbs for next year’s flower. The plant continues to absorb nutrients for about 6 weeks after the flowers have faded. If you cut or mow them back too early, they will not bloom next year.
Keep watering the plants even if the blooms have faded.
Once the leaves have yellowed and died back naturally, you can snip off the dead leaves at the base (or pull lightly while twisting the leaves). You can also mow the area without worry.
Once daffodils (and tulips) have gone by, add bonemeal to the soil for next year’s blooms.
If the dying leaves offend your sensibility, plant other bulbs, such as daffodils, daylilies, or true lilies, in the same area so they hide the fading foliage.
According to the American Daffodil Society, there are 13 official daffodil flower types and more than 25,000 named cultivars!
Whatever variety you choose, the most important tip is: Get the best quality bulbs for the best flowers. The bigger the bulbs, the better. Look for top-size bulbs, the biggest bulbs on the market.
‘Dutch Master’ is the classic daffodil—big and yellow with a very large cup and oversize trumpets. They bloom early, naturalize easily, and are great for planting in masses.
‘Barrett Browning’ is the recognizable pure white daffodil with a bright orange trumpet surrounded by a golden halo. They bloom early, naturalize easily, and do well in warmer climates, too.
’Tahiti’ is a stunner with layers of rounded, golden yellow petals interspersed with frilly, red-orange accents. They bloom mid to late season, last longer, and make an excellent cut flower.
‘Tete a Tete’ is an adorable mini daffodil that blooms early and blooms for weeks as one of the most long-blooming varieties. Ideal for flower beds and containers and naturalizes with ease.
‘Jetfire’ is another mini daffodil with bright orange cups and swept-back yellow petals. It blooms in early spring, is very long-lasting, and doesn’t flop over.
‘Petit Four’ is a good choice for a partially shady site. The flower has white petals with a double cup of apricot pink and grows 16 inches tall.
‘Cheerfulness’ bears double flowers and multiple blooms per stem; this daffodil is very fragrant with a lovely gardenia-like scent. Blooms in late spring and makes an excellent cut flower.
When cutting daffodils, keeping these flowers in their own vase is best as their stems secrete a fluid that promotes the wilting of other flowers. If you must combine them, soak them by themselves for as long as possible, then rinse them and add them to the arrangement last. Learn more about keeping cut flowers fresh.
Note that contact with the sap of daffodils may irritate skin or aggravate skin allergies.
Here’s some daffodil-themed prose to brighten your day:
“Daffodowndilly” She wore her yellow sun-bonnet, She wore her greenest gown; She turned to the south wind And curtsied up and down. She turned to the sunlight And shook her yellow head, And whispered to her neighbor: “Winter is dead.” –A.A. Milne, When We Were Very Young
Daffodils, That come before the swallow dares, and take The winds of March with beauty. –William Shakespeare, The Winter’s Tale
I wandered lonely as a cloud That floats on high o’er vales and hills, When all at once I saw a crowd, A host, of golden daffodils; Beside the lake, beneath the trees, Fluttering and dancing in the breeze. –William Wordsworth, I Wander’d Lonely as a Cloud
Of Spring Weather: Chillier, but daffodillier. –The 1991 Old Farmer’s Almanac
Daffodils are both deer-resistant and rodent-proof, as these animals do not like the taste of the bulbs in the Narcissus family.
Daffodils can also be toxic to pets, so make sure your animals don’t munch on them.
The most common problems include large narcissus bulb fly, bulb scale mites, narcissus nematode, slugs, narcissus basal rot, and other fungal infections and viruses.