Sunny Spring Daffodils

While crocus are a definite harbinger of spring, daffodils announce its arrival with beautiful bright flowers. As soon as we see the daffodils emerge from the frozen earth, we know that spring is here. Now is the time to plant these carefree perennial bulbs, to be sure you’ll get the explosion of color you want in the spring.

The ancestors of garden daffodils come from Asia and southern Europe, particularly around the Mediterranean regions. Although daffodils are best known for their big yellow trumpets, the species is actually quite diverse with over 24,000 named cultivars!

Daffodils have been breed and grown for generations. Daffodil hybridizers pollinate flowers by brushing pollen from one flower onto the stigma of another. The resulting seedpod can contain up to 25 seeds. Each of these seeds will produce an entirely new plant, but the wait for a bloom from a plant grown from seed is approximately five years! Between 1860 and 1930 more than 7,000 daffodil cultivars were introduced. Some of our best-loved varieties were most likely planted in our grandparents’ gardens – "King Alfred" was introduced in 1899, "Thalia" in 1916 and February Gold in 1923.

Narcissus is the name of the entire genus (plant family). Jonquil actually refers to a specific plant, Narcissus jonquilla. Daffodil is the common name for narcissus. There are twelve official classifications of daffodils.

Division 1: TRUMPET DAFFODILS. The classic daffodil. One flower per stem with a trumpet (also called cup or corona) as long or longer than the petals (also called perianth segments).

Division 2: LARGE-CUPPED DAFFODILS. The cup is at least one-third as long but less than the full length of the petals.

Division 3: SMALL-CUPPED DAFFODILS. The cup is a shallow trumpet, not more than one-third the length of the petals.

Division 4: DOUBLE DAFFODILS. The flowers look a bit like roses or camellias with extra petals in the trumpet, the petals or both. More than one flower per stem.

Division 5: TRIANDRUS DAFFODILS. Usually two or more flowers on each stem, with reflexed petals and a fruity fragrance. The flowers hang down slightly.

Division 6: CYCLAMINEUS DAFFODILS. The flower looks somewhat like a cyclamen. It has a short neck and highly reflexed petals.

Division 7: JONQUILLA DAFFODILS. Two to six flowers per stem, typically sweetly fragrant.

Division 8: TAZZETTA DAFFODILS. Paperwhite narcissus belong to this group. Up to 20 flowers per stem with a strong fragrance.

Division 9: POETICUS DAFFODILS. Snow-white petals around a very short cup with a green or yellow center and a red rim. They have one spicy-scented flower per stem.

Division 10: SPICIES AND WILD HYBRIDS: All species of daffodils, regardless of form, fall into this category.

Division 11: SPLIT CORONA DAFFODILS: Split irregularly for at least one-third their length.

Division 12: MISCELLANEOUS DAFFODILS. This category includes any daffodils that do not fit into other divisions.

Daffodils look fabulous in most landscapes. Choose varieties with smaller flowers and thinner foliage for rock and other small gardens. Masses of color have tremendous impact. The trumpet and large-cupped daffodils are stunning when planted in large sweeps. This design concept is called naturalizing. Areas that are perfect for this naturalized effect include: along driveways and paths, in front of wood lines, and on the sides of hills and slopes. Plant any variety of daffodils in existing perennial borders, cutting gardens and landscaped beds.

Daffodils are undemanding and extremely easy to grow -under good conditions the bulbs should outlast us! While some bulbs tend to dwindle and die out over the years, daffodils should increase.

Daffodil bulbs are sized by their "noses" or tips. The larger the bulb, the more flowers it will produce. Larger sized bulbs are more expensive; however, you are rewarded with more flowers in the spring. Select bulbs that are firm and free of blemishes. A little mold or peeling skin will not harm the bulb. The bulbs arrive from Holland in early September. To ensure the best selection, purchase your bulbs then and store them in a cool, dry place until you are ready to plant.

Daffodils are best planted in October. It is important to plant the bulbs in well-drained soil. If the soil remains wet for extended periods of time the bulb will rot. Select a site with at least six hours of sunlight a day. If the light is filtered, the flowers will require more than six hours of sun. You should receive planting instructions for each variety of bulb you choose. In general, large bulbs are planted 8" deep and smaller ones 5" deep. For a natural appearance, gently toss the bulbs in the air and then plant them wherever they land.

When you have finished planting, sprinkle a well-balanced fertilizer onto of the soil. A fertilizer with too much nitrogen will encourage excess leaf growth and a poor showing of flowers. There are several brands of fertilizers available which have been specifically formulated for bulbs. Follow the package directions carefully. Then water well.

If you notice the daffodil leaves emerging from the ground during warm spells in late winter, just let them be. They will stop growing when the weather becomes cold again.

After the flowers finish blooming, you must allow the foliage to turn completely brown before removing it. The foliage provides the bulb’s nutrition. If you cut the foliage back too early, the bulb will never flower again.

Over the years the clumps of bulbs may become so dense that they decline in vigor and produce fewer blooms. You’ll notice lots of healthy leaves, but fewer and fewer flowers. If this happens, dig them up in the late spring as soon as the foliage has died and divide the clumps.

Have fun putting drifts of these rewarding spring bloomers around your yard. They will surprise and delight you after a long cold winter.

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