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Daffodil Delight: Home

Photo by Ivo Vermeulen
Daffodil Hill at NYBG; photo by Ivo Vermeulen

Daffodils are one of the cheeriest signs of spring. Whether you call them daffodils, narcissus, jonquils or paperwhites, they are all members of the genus Narcissus. More than 13,000 different hybrids are available in the nursery trade.

Part of daffodils' popularity stems from their timing. They appear from late March into May, breaking the monotony of winter and brightening the landscape. They are also incredibly easy to grow and require very little care once planted. They are tough and versatile. Deer and rodents won't touch them (the bulbs are poisonous), they make excellent cut flowers and many varieties are wonderfully fragrant.

Flower arranging tip

The sap from cut daffodil stems is said to shorten the vase life of other flowers mixed with them. Use them alone in a vase, cut and let them sit in a vase for a few hours before changing the water and adding other flowers, or seal stems with a flame.

Planting and care

Planting and care instructions are fairly simple. Daffodils grow best in full sun or dappled shade. Let them naturalize under deciduous trees and shrubs, or scatter them in drifts throughout your perennial garden.They prefer neutral or acidic soil with good drainage. Depending on the size of the bulbs, plant them 4 to 6 inches deep. Rule of thumb: Plant bulbs 3 times their depth and space them 3 times their width (4 to 12 inches).

Add a bulb fertilizer or a balanced fertilizer to the soil when planting. In spring, allow foliage to remain for at least 6 weeks before cutting down. Don't tie or wrap the foliage, as it needs to photosynthesize to send energy back into the bulb. If necessary, move or divide clumps as they go dormant in summer. To avoid slicing through bulbs, move while the foliage is still visible.

If your daffodils stop flowering, there are several possible reasons:the location may be too shady, drainage may be insufficient (they don't like sitting in wet soil), the foliage may have been cut back too soon or the plants may need fertilizing. To fertilize an existing planting, add a granular fertilizer when the foliage emerges in spring and again when the daffodils begin to flower. You don't need to fertilize them annually; they are fairly self-sufficient.

Daffodils consist of a trumpet or cup (the corona) surrounded by 6 petals (the perianth). The American Daffodil Society has classified cultivars into 13 divisions based on flower shape and size. Understanding these divisions will help you choose the daffodils that are best for your garden. Daffodils come in early, mid, and late-flowering varieties, so you can enjoy flowers in your garden over the course of 3 months.

Division 1: Trumpet Daffodils

These are the quintessential daffodils, with large flowers and long, trumpet-shaped coronas. The flowers are solitary, each with the trumpet (corona) as long as, or longer than, the perianth. They are excellent naturalizers in Zones 3 to 7. They have early to mid-season blooms. The popular, golden-yellow 'King Alfred', the most famous of this group, is an elegant choice; it is difficult to find the real thing except from specialty growers. Many newer varieties are just as impressive. Cultivars include: 'Arctic Gold', 'Dutch Master', 'Las Vegas', 'Lorikeet', 'Mount Hood', 'Rijnveld's Early Sensation', 'Silent Valley' and 'Spellbinder'.

Division 2: Large-Cupped Daffodils

The majority of modern daffodils fall into this category. The  cups (coronas) of these solitary flowers are more than ⅓ the length of, but not as long as, the petals (perianth).They span the full range of color in the daffodil world, from white to pale pink to every shade of yellow. Cultivars include: 'Accent', 'Ambergate', 'Carlton', 'Delibes', 'Fortissimo', 'Fragrant Rose', 'Ice Follies', 'Kissproof', 'Louise de Coligny', 'Misty Glen', 'Monal', 'Pink Charm', 'Romance', 'Salome', 'Scarlett O'Hara' and 'Serola'.

Division 3: Small-Cupped Daffodils

These tend to be smaller and more graceful than large-cupped daffodils. The flowers are solitary, each with a cup up to one-third the length of the perinath. Many naturalize well. Cultivars include: 'After All', 'Barrett Browning', 'Birma', 'Dreamlight', 'Edna Earle', 'Mint Julep', 'Polar Ice', 'Sabine Hay' and 'Sinopel'.

Division 4: Double Daffodils

The corona, the perianth, or both are doubled and each stem has one or more flowers. The flowers on doubles look rather like gardenias. Many have wonderful fragrance and more than one flower per stem. Cultivars include: 'Abba', 'Acropolis', 'Bridal Crown', 'Cheerfulness', 'Erlicheer', 'Golden Ducat', 'Ice King', 'Manly', 'Replete', 'Rosy Cloud', 'Sir Winston Churchill' and 'Tahiti'.

Narcissus asturiensis is a Division 13 daffodil; photo by Ivo Vermeulen
Narcissus asturiensis is a Division 13 daffodil; photo by Ivo Vermeulen

Division 5: Triandrus Daffodils

These daffodils have drooping heads and reflexed (curled backward) petals. They tend to have more than one flower per stem, resembling fuchsias, and can be very fragrant. Cultivars include: 'Fairy Chimes', 'Ice Wings', 'Katie Heath', 'Petrel', 'Stint', 'Thalia' and 'Tresamble'.

Division 6: Cyclamineus Daffodils

These small daffodils flower early and can tolerate shady locations and heavy soils better than most daffodils. The flowers usually have a long cup acutely angled to the stem. With their reflexed petals, these cultivars look like cyclamen. They make excellent rock garden plants. Cultivars include: 'February Gold', 'Foundling', 'Itzim', 'Greenlet', 'Jack Snipe', 'Jetfire' and 'Peeping Tom'.

Division 7: Jonquilla Daffodils

These daffodils have up to 5 flowers per stem and small, shallow cups. They are known for their fragrance and cylindrical reed-like foliage. Jonquils do well in the South and can be grown in Zones 5 to 9. Cultivars include: 'Dickcissel', 'Fruit Cup', 'Golden Echo', 'Hillstar', 'Intrigue', 'Kedron', 'Pappy George', 'Pipit', 'Stratosphere' and 'Sweetness'.

Division 8: Tazetta Daffodils

These usually scented daffodils prefer warmer conditions (Zones 5 to 9). The paperwhites that we grow indoors belong to this division. They tend to be floriferous, producing up to 20 blossoms per stem. They have small cups and rounded petals. Cultivars include: 'Avalanche', 'Canarybird', 'Falconet', 'Geranium', 'Hoopoe', 'Inbal' and 'Scarlet Gem'.

Divizion 9: Poeticus Daffodils

These daffodils are usually solitary and have large, white petals, very, small, red-rimmed cups, and a spicy fragrance. They naturalize well. Poeticus daffodils are hybrids of the wild pheasant eye daffodil (Narcissus poeticus var. recurvus). Cultivars include: 'Actaea', 'Dactyl', 'Green Pearl', 'Milan', 'Pheasant Eye' and 'Felindre'.

Division 10: Bulbocodium Daffodils

These diminutive daffodils have tiny petals and a large trumpet. Their common name is the hoop-petticoat daffodil. The parentage behind this group is the species Narcissus bulbocodium var. conspicuus. Cultivars include: 'Golden Bells', 'Greenlet', 'Kenellis' and 'Spoirot'.

Division 11: Split-Corona Daffodils

In this division the corona of these, usually solitary, flowers is split for more than half its length and may be ruffled or flattened, creating large, dramatic flowers. There are two groups in this division: collar types with ruffled or frilly cups and papillon types with an open butterfly-like cup. These daffodils make excellent cut flowers. Cultivars include: 'Cassata', 'Colblanc', 'Mondragon', 'Orangery', 'Palmares', 'Rosado' and 'Tripartite', 'Broadway Star', 'Lemon Beauty', 'Papillon Blanc', 'Sorbet' and 'Space Shuttle'.

Division 12: Miscellaneous Daffodils

These are daffodils that don't fit into other divisions. Many of them are small and often grouped with miniatures. Cultivars include: 'Bittern', 'Jumblie', 'Quince', 'Royal Tern' and 'Tête-à-Tête'.

Division 13: Species and Naturally Occurring Hybrids

Many of these wild species and their natural hybrids are very small. They are best grown in a rock garden or small bed where their charming flowers can be easily enjoyed. They combine well with some of the miniature daffodils listed below. Species include : Narcissus jonquilla, N. obvallaris, N. pseudonarcissus and N. triandrus albus.


These are daffodils that are no more than 6 inches tall with flowers under 1½ inches long. Minis are classified in other divisions according to the shape of the flower. Cultivars include: 'Baby Moon', 'Hawera', 'Little Gem', 'Midget', 'Minnow' and 'Sundial'.

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