Narcissus: daffodil, narcissus
Height 5-45cm (2-18in)
Planting distance 7.5-20cm (3-8in)
Flowers late winter to early summer
Well-drained, moist, humus-rich
Full sun or partial shade
Bulbs available late summer to late autumn
It’s hardly surprising that narcissi are so popular among gardeners: they’re cheap to buy, easy to grow, spread with little encouragement once in the ground, and provide an eye-catching display through the spring. The first narcissiopen in late winter, the last in early summer so, depending on the region, with a selection of different varieties, a colourful display is possible for almost five months.
Nearly all except the very short stemmed varieties are suited to growing among rough grass, where they can be left undisturbed, to colonize over the years. The large varieties grow well in groups in shrub and herbaceous borders, while the flowers of the dwarf varieties look enchanting in a rockery or sink garden. All make excellent cut flowers.
Narcissi thrive in acid and neutral soils but they will tolerate chalk. Ideally the soil should be well-drained, but moist, with plenty of humus in it.
The correct botanical name for all members of the genus is narcissus; those in the trumpet group are usually called.
Popular species and hybrids
The numerous narcissi hybrids developed from the species are arranged into groups according to the size of the cup or trumpet (corolla) and outer petals, and the species from which they have been developed. There are ten groups.
Trumpet daffodils (Division 1) have cups that are longer than the petals. The 20-45cm (8-18in) high stems carry only one flower which appears in late winter or early spring. They look particularly effective planted in drifts in long grass beneath trees. A vast number of varieties have been developed, offering several colour combinations: ‘Golden Harvest’ and ‘King Alfred’ (yellow), ‘Mount Hood’ (white), ‘Queen of Bicolors’ and ‘Trousseau’ (white and yellow).
Large-cupped narcissi (Division 2) have cup-shaped corollas a little more than one-third the length of the petals. Only one flower is held on each 32-45cm (13-18in) high stem. The flowers appear between late and, depending on variety, in a wide range of colours. Plant in mixed grass. Popular varieties include ‘Carlton’ and ‘St Keverne’ (yellow), Tee Follies’ (pure white), ‘Belisana’ (white with an orange cup) and ‘Duke of Windsor’ (white with an apricot yellow cup).
Small-cupped narcissi (Division 3) have small cups – less than one-third the length of the petals. One flower is held on each 35-45cm (14-18in) high stem. The flowers appear in early spring and come in several colour variations. They are suitable for growing in borders or for naturalizing in grass. Popular varieties include ‘Birma’ (yellow petals and a deep orange cup) and ‘Barrett Browning’ (pure white petals and an orange-red cup).
Double-flowered narcissi (Division 4) have double flowers. These are scented, and stand 30-45cm (12-18in) above ground in early and mid spring. Plant in borders. Popular varieties include ‘Cheerfulness’ (cream-white); ‘Flower Drift’ (white with an orange-yellow cup) and ‘Texas’ (yellow).
Triandrus narcissi (Division 5) have pendent flowers with funnel-shaped cups and back-swept petals. The 15-38cm (6-15in) high stems each carry two or three flowers in mid spring. Plant in a sunny spot, at the front of a border. Popular varieties include ‘Liberty Bells’ (yellow), ‘Thalia’ (pure white) and ‘Tresamble’ (white).
Cyclamineus narcissi (Division 6) have pendent flowers with long, narrow, frilled, trumpet-shaped cups and swept-back petals. They stand 15-38cm (6-15in) high and appear in late winter. Grow in fine grass or among dwarf plants in a rockery. Popular varieties include ‘February Gold’ (golden-yellow), ‘Peeping Tom’ and ‘Charity May’ (soft yellow).
Jonquilla narcissi (Division 7) have several small sweetly scented flowers, sometimes with swept-back petals, on stems 28-42cm (11-17in) high. These appear in mid and late spring. They grow best in a sheltered, sunny spot. Popular varieties include the tall ‘Trevithian’ (two or three lemon-yellow flowers on each stem), ‘Suzy’ (up to four flowers on each stem with bright yellow petals and an orange cup) and ‘Waterperry’ (ivory-white petals and pink-orange cup).
Tazetta and Poetaz narcissi (Division 8) have short cups and petals that are often frilled. In late spring, several sweetly scented flowers appear on each 45cm (18in) high stem. They grow outdoors only in very mild areas; elsewhere they are ideal for forcing to flower indoors in winter. Popular varieties include ‘Cragford’ (white with an orange cup), and ‘Paper White’ (white).
Poeticus narcissi (Division 9) have white petals with a yellow or red frilly edged cup. Only one scented flower is held on each 35-42cm (14-17in) high stem in late spring. These narcissi are best grown in borders and beds, but they can be naturalized in grass. Popular varieties include ‘Actaea’ (white with a red-rimmed yellow cup) and ‘Old Pheasant’s Eye’ (white with a red cup).
Species narcissi (Division 10) have flowers in a variety of shapes and sizes. Most are dwarf plants, suitable for growing in a rock garden or naturalizing in short grass. The most popular is Narcissus bulbocodium, otherwise called ‘Yellow Hoop Petticoat’, with a wide funnel-shaped cup and narrow insignificant petals. Its yellow flowers appear in late winter and early spring, only 5-15cm (2-6in) above ground. Plant in short grass.
Narcissus pseudonarcissus, the Lent lily, is the true wild daffodil which is sometimes found growing in English woodland and meadows. The flowers, with near-white petals and long lemon-yellow trumpets, appear in mid spring 15-30cm (6-12in) above ground. It is best grown in moist soil. An all-white form and an all-yellow form are also available.
Narcissi thrive in rich well-manured soil in full sun or partial shade – under trees or in the shade of a hedge or taller plants. Scatter a general fertilizer over the ground before planting. Plant as soon as the bulbs are available in late summer and early autumn.
Aim for a natural look, setting them in irregular groups rather than precise circles or rows. Scatter the bulbs on their planting site at random to decide their exact position, but ensure they are at least 10cm (4in) apart. Use a dibber to plant small bulbs and a trowel or special bulb planter for the larger ones. The bottom of the holes should be flat so the bulbs rest on the soil. Make the holes three times the depth of the bulb in ground which can be left undisturbed; set them a few centimetres deeper in borders likely to be forked or hoed after the bulbs are planted. Space most bulbs 10-20cm (4-8in) apart; the shorter Triandrus and Cyclamineus varieties and N. bulbocodium should be planted 5-7.5cm (2-3in) apart.
After flowering, always let the leaves die down completely, or at least become yellow. This allows the foliage to feed the bulbs, ensuring flowering the following year. Knotting leaves is not a good idea. It reduces the leaf surface exposed to the sun and prevents the bulbs’ food reserves from building up for next year.
Lift overcrowded clumps between mid summer and early autumn, remove bulb offsets and plant out in a nursery bed. They reach flowering size in two or three years.
Pests and diseases
Root rot may rot or stunt the growth of bulbs. Otherwise generally trouble free.