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Daffodil Planting Guide 101

Updated on August 30, 2014
My Friend Sara (F Nyikos 2010) my only registered daffodil named for Sara Kinne
My Friend Sara (F Nyikos 2010) my only registered daffodil named for Sara Kinne | Source

Daffodils are the ultimate harbinger of spring. Oh sure, there is the crocus and windflowers and winter aconites and durable hellebore. Yet, when the daffodils begin blooming that is when I know spring is really here. Now is the time to begin working towards this. Fall is a fabulous time to be outside working in the garden. Fortunately the weather is still good. Humidity levels tend to be low. And, most of the pesky insects have produced the eggs for next year and passed on.

Where to Buy Your Bulbs

Sure you can go to Lowes or Menards or Home Depot or even the corner grocery to get a bag of bulbs for a reasonable price. I guess this will be ok if all you want is the standard yellow trumpet daffodil. Did you know that there are over 23 thousand listings on Daffseek (the site where one can find information on recognized daffodils) that come in sizes from teeny weenie to huge doubles. Daffodils come in quite a range of colors from white to yellow to pink. I have seen some that have a slight purple cast to them. Some are fragrant. Some have multiple blooms per stem. Some bloom early. I have one from the late Helen Link that usually doesn’t bloom until mid May or later. To get this kind of choice I like to support local garden clubs when possible. For me this means that attending a sale by the Indiana Daffodil Society. Money raised by them from these sales is used to support a variety of philanthropic causes such as scholarships for aspiring youth with a passion for plants. The IDS (for short) have several sales a year in several cities to reach a wide audience. They have a booth at the local farmer's market in Bloomington IN. Other local daffodil societies have similar sales. Please check out the American Daffodil website for a local club near you.


Daffodils are labeled and described by an ingenious code that was developed to give the reader a pretty good idea of what to expect the flower to look like. For example when I see the code 1Y-Y I know that the flower will have the traditional old fashioned telephone look where the cup or trumpet part is longer than the petals. The first Y tells me that the halo petals are yellow in color. And the second Y after the hyphen tells me that the trumpet or cup is yellow as well. The coding doesn’t tell me how big the flower is only what to expect the shape and coloring to be. Your local garden club can explain this coding for you when you visit them. Most have small pictures now to show buyers what the flower looks like so you don’t really have to know the coding system to find the perfect color combination or shapes that interest you. Try some that are different such as when the petals are white and the cup is yellow.

Labeled bulbs in net bags for good air circulation
Labeled bulbs in net bags for good air circulation | Source
Bulb rot . . . notice the white fungus and dried up appearance.  Do not plant these
Bulb rot . . . notice the white fungus and dried up appearance. Do not plant these | Source

Selecting Your Bulbs

Generally speaking, daffodils are relatively immune to disease and pest problems. This is not to say there are not virus or pest problems to consider. But, it is because of the carefree growing habits of daffodils that attract many gardeners to include them in their gardens. Be sure to buy bulbs that are firm to the touch. Look for nice firm tan colored bulbs. I’m not talking about dirt on the bulbs. They’re going back in the ground anyway so don’t worry if they have dirt on them. Any softness or dark discoloration from a bruise will usually mean that it is rotting. Daffodils are subject to basal stem rot caused by a Fusarium fungus. To me this is the most prevalent problem I have with growing this bulb. Fortunately I have found that sprinkling a bit of a mycorrhizae blend that has Tricoderma strains included greatly reduces this problem. The Tricoderma feeds on pathogenic fungi such as the Fusarium .

How to Plant

One of the biggest mistakes people make when planting a daffodil bulb is that they plant the bulb too deep. People feel as though they have to dig a HUGE hole. Nothing could be further from the truth. All a good sized bulb really needs is maybe an inch of dirt on top of the growing point. For smaller bulbs you don’t need even that much dirt above the top of the bulb. Not only will you be saving yourself quite a bit of work you will also make it better for the bulb to grow. If the bulb is planted too deep it may not be able to send the leaves and flower up to the surface. If you are worried about protecting the bulbs from the freezing weather this winter you should put your fears aside. For me in south central Indiana our ground typically can freeze down to 18 inches in the winter. Daffodils are used to freezing. They like it! It is quite common for visitors in my garden to point out protruding bulbs with sun shining directly on them. They are quite happy.

In addition to a sprinkling of my favorite mycorrhizae blend I like to add a generous sprinkling of bone meal. I like to use bone meal for the phosphorous to bloom well because it is organic and decomposes at a slower rate than rock phosphate. Some use a triple action phosphate when planting their bulbs. It seems to me that this works for a year or two and then the effectiveness is reduced. I have found that bone meal lasts longer. Since I typically lift and divide every 4 or 5 years as the clump gets large the bone meal is finally used up and ready to be reapplied at about this time too. Remember that phosphorous does not soak into the soil very well. It will run off to our rivers, lakes and coastal ocean waters. Put the phosphorous where it will do its job at root level below the surface of the soil.

Lost the name.  If you known which one this is please send me a note :-)
Lost the name. If you known which one this is please send me a note :-) | Source

When to Plant

Planting can start anytime after about a 2 month dormancy period. This means that the bulb has sufficiently cured. By this I mean that the old season roots have dried off of the bulb. The bulb has had enough time to rest. It is now ready to begin growing roots again. This particular perennial is different than most in that the roots are the first to grow. This is followed by the bloom and then leaf growth commences after the bloom. In most perennials the pattern for the season is to grow then bloom and then to make roots for the next season. The cycle of growth may be because daffodils are a “Mediterranean” native. Spain, Turkey and other slightly northern Mediterranean places are where many species can be found growing naturally. It is my guess that these plants have their growing cycle because of these locations and how they compete with other native plants. Many spring bulbs grow similarly.

My advice to anyone planting a daffodil is to try and have them in the ground so that roots can develop a month or so before the ground freezes. I try as hard as I can to have my bulbs planted by about the middle of October. This doesn’t mean that I haven’t been known to be outside on a Christmas Eve planting a grouping as a present for a friend. I have even had the unfortunate problem of finding some bulbs in the spring. These I get into the ground as soon as I can force a spade in to make the hole. Early fall planting is ideal.

Believe it or not one of the best sources for bulbs is from New Zealand. The daffodil society there is world class. Some of the world’s leading hybridizers are in New Zealand. The problem here is that they are in the southern hemisphere. There are some slight differences in planting bulbs you are fortunate enough to get from New Zealand. I recommend you talk with someone from your local or regional club for advice. It takes a year or two to “turn around” these bulbs to follow our northern growing seasons.

Finally, don’t forget to have some on hand for forcing. Nothing beats a pot of paper whites blooming in the house in January. These are difficult to save to plant out in the spring. They are usually tender for northern growers. They will not come back even if you are careful and plant them out in the spring. So, buy these forcing bulbs from your favorite home improvement store. Enjoy them while they are blooming and give them a proper composting when they have finished.

We will miss you Grant Mitsch Novelty Daffodils :-(

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