Nothing Says Spring Like Daffodils—Here’s How to Add Them to Your Garden

updated Apr 9, 2020
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Daffodils in front of a white house
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When the days start to get longer and the ground begins to thaw, the first signs of spring will not be far off. One of the first flowers to show its face is the Narcissus, commonly known as the daffodil or Easter flower. The daffodil is one of the most well known spring flowers, and once you get the bulbs in the ground they’re pretty easy to care for. But just because they’re a perennial bulb doesn’t mean they can only be grown one way. From container gardening to being used in cut flower arrangements, narcissi are the champions of spring gardens. Daffodil bulbs should be planted in the ground in fall for spring blooms, but if you missed this fall’s planting there’s no need to fret—you can buy already-blooming daffodils from nurseries and garden centers to plant in your garden now for some easy spring pep. Read on to learn more.

What are daffodils?

Daffodils are perennial bulbs that are native to southern Europe and northern Africa, but they have been naturalized all over the world. They are a relative of the amaryllis and are frequently grown alongside other spring bulbs like hyacinth and paperwhites. While there are around 160 officially registered species, there are 13,000 different species and hybrids to choose from for your garden! Daffodils are hardy and will quickly multiply over the seasons and can be easily divided and transplanted. 

In the springtime leaves emerge from the bulb, followed by a long stem that will produce a bud and flower. Some species have stems that bloom just one flower, while other species bloom multiple, smaller flowers from the singular stems. The most popular and well-known varieties such as the “Dutch Master” are Trumpet daffodils. They produce one flower per stem and resemble the bell of the trumpet instrument. Recently heirloom varieties like the Narcissus erlicheer  and the “Yellow Cheerfulness” have taken center stage among landscape designers and flower farmers. If full sized plants aren’t your thing, try a few varieties of the mini-daffodils. Mini daffodils, like the Tete-e-Tete, grow the same as their bigger siblings but maintain a smaller disposition. 

Credit: Jurga Jot/Shutterstock

When and where should I plant them?

If you want your daffodils to come up on their own in the spring, you need to plant the bulbs in the fall, during the same time you’re planting tulips and other spring bulbs. You’ll want to plant them before the ground freezes, which will depend on your location. Check your Farmer’s Almanac for a more specific understanding of the dates. When picking a place to plant your bulbs, choose a spot in your garden that drains water well and gets full sun. The full sun will help the bulbs kick start their energy stores to begin growing. If daffodil bulbs sit in wet soil, they will rot and never sprout. Daffodils look best when planted in clusters.

Don’t have a garden out outdoor space to plant bulbs in the group? You can plant them in containers the same way. If you want to plant them in containers in the fall, use frost-proof pots and then plant winter-hardy annuals or design the pot with holiday greens while you wait for spring. 

How do I plant daffodils?

Daffodils are extremely easy to plant! All you’ll need is an assortment of bulbs and a spade or shovel. You can plant your bulbs from the early months of fall until the ground freezes, but you should plant them within a month of buying the bulbs. 

  1. Dig a hole that’s roughly six inches deep. If you have trouble eyeballing measurements, get out your trusty ruler. 
  2. Put the bulb in the hole, point side facing the sky. 
  3. Fill the hole in with soil.
  4. Water so that the soil is damp. 
  5. Repeat! Daffodil bulbs prefer to be spaced at least three inches apart. 
Credit: Johner Images/Getty Images

Can I plant daffodils in the spring?

Did you miss out on planting bulbs in the fall but want daffodils in your garden this spring? Don’t worry! When the weather warms up you’ll find pots of blooming daffodils being sold at nurseries all over the country. You can plant them directly in the ground or in a container. If you’re planting daffodils in the spring, they will have a longer bloom-life if you keep them out of the direct sun. 

How long do I have to wait to see my daffodils blooms?

Once the days begin to warm in the spring, the bulbs will begin to grow. Also, depending on where you live and when you planted the bulbs, you could see growth emerging from the ground as early as the first of March. It is possible that you won’t see any sign of life until April. It all depends on your timeline and location, but once the ground thaws expect it to take three to six weeks before you see growth. 

Credit: Liz Calka

How to cut daffodils for cut flower arrangements

After your daffodils bloom you can choose to cut a few stems and put them in a vase! Take a sharp pair of scissors or shears and cut the stem all the way down by the ground. If you keep the water in your vase fresh and give the stems a fresh cut every two or three days, daffodils will keep as cut flowers for about a week. Note that they secrete a sap that can cause other flowers to wilt prematurely, so they’re best arranged in a vase by themselves.

What do I do after the blooms are done?

Once daffodils bloom, their flowers will maintain their freshness for three to six weeks, depending on the weather. If for some reason the temperature jumps above 60 degrees fahrenheit for longer than a day, the blooms will start to die off at a rapid pace. 

You don’t need to dig up daffodils every year. Leave them in the ground and they will bloom and multiply each year. It’s typical that during the first year each bulb will produce two or three blooms, then each year will double or triple its production. 

Even though these bulbs don’t need to be dug up annually,  the plants do require some very specific maintenance in order to return every spring. 

Daffodils need their leaves in order to regenerate the energy within their bulbs. This is the energy that keeps the bulbs viable until the spring. If you cut off the foliage too soon, the bulbs will never flower again. For this reason you need to let the leaves die back on their own. Only after they die and turn brown should you cut it back. This can take anywhere from two to four  weeks after the blooms have died. Because of this some people choose not to grow daffodils or they simply pull the entire plant out after the blooms are done and simply start again the next year. 

If you find that your daffodils have stopped producing a lot of blooms over a period of years, they might have multiplied to the point of overcrowding. After the blooms have died off, dig up some of the bulbs and divide them before planting them elsewhere in your garden.

Credit: Milcho Petrov Milev/Shutterstock

Do I need to worry about pests?

Fortunately for growers, daffodils are naturally pest and animal resistant! Even deer and rabbits hate the taste of daffodils. However, these plants can fall prey to mold and other issues if the soil around the bulb is too wet. It’s also possible to get diseased bulbs from your seller, so be sure to shop with a reputable source. 

Reminder that daffodils are toxic to pets

Something to keep in mind if you have a curious pet: Daffodils are toxic to both dogs and cats, so keep them in areas where your pet won’t be tempted.