Welcome Back the Daffodils


hyacinths, and daffodils are harbingers
that have been welcoming spring and
lighting up landscapes for nearly 300 years
here. Cheerful daffodils, members of the
Narcissus family, are easy to grow, and
return year after year, multiplying—or naturalizing—
in the process. The arrival of
daffodils on this continent from the Old
World is a tale of ingenuity that serves as a
testament to our quest for beauty.
Narcissus bulbs were introduced to North
America by pioneer women who made the
long ocean voyage from Europe to America
IT’S SPRING!
By Lynette L. Walther
PHOTOS: LYNETTE L. WALTHER
IN THE GARDEN
to build a new future, according to the
National Garden Bureau (NGB). Given
limited space for bringing personal goods,
they sewed dormant daffodil bulbs into the
hems of their skirts, to plant at their new
homes as reminders of the gardens they left
behind. The remnant ancestors of those
bulbs still exist today in older gardens in the
eastern half of the US, making them a part of
our heritage for more than three centuries.
Indeed, the presence of daffodils can often
mark abandoned homesites with their
cheerful blooms.
Daffodils, a spring-blooming, self-propagating
perennial, originated in Europe,
predominantly in Spain, Portugal, France,
and Austria, where they are native to
meadows and woody forests, says the NGB.
Some naturalized in Great Britain and from
there, narcissus bulbs were originally introduced
to North America.
Daffodil is a nickname for the familiar
flower, not a scientific or Latin name. The
official botanical genus name for daffodils is
Narcissus, which comes from the Greek word
Narkissos and its base word Narke, meaning
sleep or numbness, attributed to the sedative
effect from the alkaloids in its plants,
according to the NGB. The plant family is
Amaryllidaceae, meaning all members are
poisonous. This quality makes them critter
proof, which is great for gardeners.
Garden How-To’s
Unlike many spring flowering bulbs, daffodils
are not eaten by mice, voles, squirrels, rabbits,
or deer because they are poisonous and
distasteful, which helps to keep pets and children
from ingesting them. Daffodils are great
for picking and arranging in cut flower
bouquets, and they are also perfect for
container planting and forcing.
The ideal daffodil planting time depends
Welcome Back the Daffodils
APRIL 2020 • 57
on the growing zones. In zones 3–5 it
is recommended to plant in
September–November.
Bulb sizes
Bulb sizes are determined by the age
of the bulb and the division of the
cultivar. Division 1–4 tend to be larger
(14–16 cm or 16–18 cm in circumference)
than Division 5–7 (12–14 cm or
14–16 cm). Of course, miniatures are
normally smaller sized bulbs (8–10
cm or 10–12 cm).
Planting Instructions
Keeping bulb size in mind, daffodil
bulbs should be spaced three times
the width of the bulb apart, or four to
six inches on center, depending on
the size of the bulb. As for planting
depth, daffodils should be planted
three times the height of the bulb
deep, or four to six inches to the
bottom of the hole, depending on the
size of the bulb. Planting in full sun is
preferable, but partial shade (with
sun at least a half day) is acceptable.
Digging and dividing is normally not
necessary if the bulbs are planted in
fertile soil, have enough water during
the spring growing season, and get
plenty of sunlight for six weeks after
the blooms are finished. However, to
divide them, do so as soon as the
foliage begins to turn yellow. Dig under
the whole clump with a spading fork,
shake off the loose soil, and carefully
separate the roots of the large bulbs
from one another. If daughter bulbs are
attached to the mother bulbs, it’s best
to leave them together. They will separate
underground when the time is
right. The best choice is to replant
bulbs immediately after digging. If
storing is necessary, however, store the
bulbs dry in mesh bags with plenty of
air circulation.