Planting Narcissus Bulbs

Every spring at the Chicago Botanic Garden, thousands of Narcissus bloom. Come enjoy the spirit of spring, and be inspired to try some new varieties in your own garden.

The Beauty of Spring

The Narcissus genus includes 13 divisions of cultivated daffodils and wild Narcissus that epitomize the perennial beauty of spring. Their multiplying blooms explode on hillsides, meadows, and woodland walks, or form elegant swaths in formal gardens. The thousands of cultivars range from the great giants, growing to 20 inches with strong stems, coronas (trumpets), and perianths (petals) that can withstand spring winds and rain, down to charming 4-inch miniatures perfect for rock gardens or containers. Colors extend well beyond yellow and white to shades approaching apricot, pink, and flaming orange. The flowers themselves include the majestic trumpets as well as the intriguing doubles, frilled cups, flat cups, split coronas, and flared-back forms.

Daffodil bulbs are planted in fall but bloom in spring, as early as March or as late as May, depending on the cultivar. They require excellent drainage in a rich soil. Most prefer full sun but will perform admirably in shadier conditions, especially the pastels. They love spring rain during their active growth, summer drought when they go dormant, and autumnal showers as they develop strong roots.

Planting Daffodils

Plant the bulbs at a depth equal to three to four times the height of the bulb, measuring from the bottom of the planting hole. For backyard gardens, create clusters of five to seven or nine bulbs per group, leaving 3 inches between bulbs. Gardeners with larger spaces can imitate nature by using thousands of bulbs in swelling drifts. Narcissus are perfect in ground cover beds or in perennial borders where emerging plants hide their yellowing foliage. It is crucial that the stems and leaves remain attached to the bulbs until they begin to lose their green color.

In fall, apply a slow-release bulb booster-type fertilizer into the top layer of soil above the planting hole of new bulbs or existing clumps. This helps the bulbs set roots in the fall and produce vigorous growth the following spring.

Narcissus are insect-and disease-resistant and, for those who garden with wildlife watching, they are of no interest to deer, rabbits, and other rodents due to a poisonous alkaloid in the bulb. This chemical is also responsible for the daffodil's inability to coexist with other cut flowers in a vase.