Jane McLeod: A sea of golden daffodils

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There are numerous fall chores to do in the garden to get everything buttoned down for winter, but one of my favorite tasks — planting daffodil bulbs — turns my thoughts ahead to spring. Planted in the fall, daffodils awaken in the spring with a cheery promise of new beginnings and warmer weather.

Daffodils look wonderful in formal perennial gardens, but think about naturalizing them in large scale settings. The term naturalizing often refers to an informal looking, spontaneous scattering of bulbs, and daffodils lend themselves to this process as they are self-propagating and spread slowly in meadows and lawns. Throughout time, these plantings expand into a pattern that is governed by nature, resulting in a display that is pleasing year after year without any care needed after planting. If you dig some in every fall, soon you might see, as William Wordsworth did in his classic 1804 poem, “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.”

Daffodils naturalize easily because they adapt to a broad range of climates (but check the zone for survival here); aren’t terribly fussy about moisture, light or soil type; and are vigorous without being invasive. That said, they thrive best in full sunlight and good drainage. Plant here in October or about 4 weeks before the ground freezes, which gives them a chance to start developing their root systems. Plant 6 to 8 inches deep (or minimum twice the bulb’s height), 3 to 6 inches apart and pointy end up. Since daffodils multiply by bulb division, this spacing allows the bulbs to increase throughout time. Under good growing conditions, they should outlast any of us, and unlike tulips, which tend to dwindle and die, daffodils should increase and multiply into large patches where happy.

A cold treatment — natural or induced — is necessary for flower bud initiation. Daffodils come spring can bloom a good six weeks. The plant then needs to create food and strengthen and rebuild its bulb. Deadhead the seed heads, if feasible, and allow the leaves to photosynthesize for easily six weeks before cutting them back. The leaves will stay green during this process. When they start to yellow, cut them down, and let the plant slip into dormancy.

Daffodil, the common name, or narcissus the Latin or botanical name, appear in a variety of shapes and sizes to the tune of more than 50 species and thousands of hybrids.

The mainly yellow or white flowers have a corona in the center that looks like a trumpet with a ring of six petals all around. They are classified into divisions according to the flower forms or botanical name: trumpet, large-cupped, small-cupped, double, triandrus, cyclamineus, jonquilla, tazetta, poeticus, bulbocodium, split-corona and miscellaneous. Despite some of the pretty flowers, the bulbs contain a poison, are terribly bitter and thus not the least bit attractive to being nibbled on by rodents.

Daffodils will create years and years of enjoyment, and as penned by Wordsworth, “and then my heart with pleasure fills, and dances with the daffodils.”

Jane McLeod is a master gardener with the CSU Extension Routt County. Call 970-879-0825 with questions.

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