It’s one of the most popular and easiest bulbs to grow.
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Sprouting in beautiful shades of yellow, orange, and white, daffodils are an early sign that spring has sprung. The perennial flower—which has been cultivated for hundreds of years—is one of the easiest and most popular bulbs to grow. "Daffodils are very low maintenance," says Juliet Del Rio, community outreach and marketing manager of Bob's Garden Center. "They can easily grow wild in the woods!" Despite how straightforward daffodils are to maintain, it's still possible for home gardeners to make mistakes when caring for the spring bloom. Ahead, experts explain everything you need to know about daffodils, including their many types, as well as how to plant, and care for them so you get the best showing yet.

bouquet of yellow daffodils in a glass vase
Credit: MaskaRad / Getty Images

Types of Daffodils

There are 13 different official classifications of daffodils as defined by the American Daffodil Society and they "come in many shapes and colors and offer lots of unique varieties," says Lindsay Day of FlowerBulbs.com. She notes that some tried-and-true cultivars are the Golden Ducat, Rip Van Winkle, and Petit Four—all examples of the double daffodil—which feature one or more flowers to a stem. Another common variety is the trumpet daffodil, which has a center that is as long or longer than its petals. Large-cupped daffodils are defined by their prominent cups, while small cup iterations have short cups that are less than one-third the length of the petals. Don't worry about recognizing all the different varieties; your local garden center should have seasonal bulbs in stock, according to Del Rio. "There isn't much of a difference in care depending on varieties," she says. 

When to Plant Daffodils

Like many spring-flowering bulbs, daffodils need a long winter to grow strong roots, so you'll need to plant them during fall. "The earlier they produce roots, the better the bulb can tolerate frost and the fluctuating weather," Day explains. "It's best to plant about two to four weeks before the ground freezes." 

How to Choose a Planting Site 

Once you've chosen the bulbs you want to plant, which Jon Roethling, director of Reynolda Gardens, says should be firm and clean with no sign of disease or rot, it's time to choose a growing site. Look for a well-draining spot that offers full sun, as daffodils thrive when given access to plenty of light. Additionally, Del Rio notes to be aware of what's underneath the soil. "Plants nearby could have competing roots which will hinder the growth of the bulb," she explains. "You might have other bulbs underneath that aren't currently in bloom and accidentally find them when you start digging."

How to Plant Daffodils

According to Day, daffodil bulbs should be planted about two to three times as deep as the bulbs are high, so if you have one that's two-inches tall, plant it four to six inches below the top of the soil. "Be sure to place the bulbs with the pointed side up and the root side down," she says. "Space bulbs three to six inches apart to allow room for them to grow through the years." When covering the bulbs, you should use an acidic, fertile, and well-drained soil that has a pH of around six to seven. After they're planted, Day says to water the area so the soil is moist, but not too wet; they should be fine until spring. "During really dry winters, supplemental water is okay to add," she says. The bulbs won't need too much attention after their first watering—until spring arrives when they'll need to be fertilized with a low nitrogen fertilizer to encourage leaf growth. 

How to Plant Daffodils in a Pot

If you are a city dweller and don't have garden space, Day says you can also plant daffodils in a pot. To do so, select a vessel with a drainage hole in the bottom. Then, fill the container about two-thirds of the way full with well-draining potting soil and compost mix before adding your bulbs. Cover the bulbs with more potting mix until it reaches roughly two to three times their height. Water the daffodils enough so not to let the soil dry out, but don't give them too much hydration or they'll rot. "Once the bulbs are potted up, arrange the pots and sit back and wait for the show in spring," Day says. 

How to Care for Cut Daffodils

Despite the term "cut flowers," Roethling recommends pulling daffodils, instead; sometimes there can be viruses in bulbs that can be passed along to other plants when using scissors or pruners to trim stems. "Grasp the stem at the base near the soil and pull," he says. "Wait for the buds to start showing color before you pick." Generally, daffodils are best to display in a vase on their own, as they excrete a sap that can reduce the life of other cut blooms. If you do want to display them along other types, Roethling says to keep them separate for 24 hours. Submerge the stems of your flowers in a few inches of water and refresh as needed. They should last for up to 10 days when properly attended to; Roethling notes that food isn't necessary, as it may only add a day or two to the flower's shelf life.

Comments (1)

Martha Stewart Member
March 21, 2018
I bought a small bunch (9 stems) of showing yellow but still unopened daffodils at the market, cut an inch off each stem with my razor sharp pocket knife and placed them in a clean beer glass with room temperature tap water. They’re in a cool place, out of direct sunlight and In less than 48 hours they’re ready for the composite bin. Is this the result of not adding cut flower food (which wasn’t included)?