How and When to Plant Daffodil Bulbs

These cheery flowers will let you know exactly when spring starts.

It's so simple to plant daffodil bulbs that, honestly, everyone should do it. Whether you're brand new to gardening or you've always had your hands in the soil, whether you live in Northern California or upstate New York, you can easily grow daffodils. Happiness, hope, and renewal are all associated with these beautiful flowers. Daffodils are sturdy plants that bounce back after snowfalls and some also thrive in the heat of the Deep South or West. And once you plant daffodils, they'll return year after year and even multiply. Here's how and when to plant daffodil bulbs to enjoy their cheery colors for many springs to come.

blooming daffodils in garden bed
Peter Krumhardt

Types of Daffodils

Daffodils (Narcissus) are an antidote to the winter blues. Choose bulbs from all three blooming times: early, mid-season or late, and keep the daffodil show running for months in your garden. If you want the first possible flowers, try 'Rijnveld's Early Sensation', a classic yellow trumpet daffodil that blooms in January or February. The early, miniature, yellow 'Tete a Tete' deserves a starring location next to your front walk.

Daffodil expert Becky Heath of Brent & Becky's Bulbs points out that most of the popular daffodils bloom in mid-season, which for many climates is a 6- to 8-week period in March and April. She recommends the poet's daffodils like 'Actaea' as the last to bloom. Shop around to find windblown looks of the cyclamineus daffodils, frothy double daffodils, and colors ranging from all shades of yellow to white, bi-color, orange and even pink.

When to Plant Daffodil Bulbs

Once you've chosen which types to grow, you'll need to get your daffodil bulbs into the ground at the right time. The bulbs need to develop a root system before the ground freezes. The soil temperature should be 55-60℉, which will signal the bulbs to grow roots. Any warmer and the bulbs may begin to sprout leaves ahead of schedule.

Planting time depends on your area but is usually September and October. Daffodils need moderately cold winters for their life cycle so if you garden in USDA Zones 5-7, you're in the sweet spot. Southern gardeners in USDA Zones 8-10 will have their best luck with jonquil daffodils. Gardeners in warm areas in the West, where it cools off at night, can get repeat performance from 'Barret Browning' and 'Thalia'. But for diehard daffodil lovers in warm climates like San Diego and Florida, daffodil sellers will come to the rescue, pre-cooling bulbs and shipping to you for December or January planting.

How to Plant Daffodil Bulbs

Daffodils have two primary requirements: sunshine and drainage. To ensure your daffodils get full sun exposure in the spring, plant the bulbs in open spaces or under trees that lose their leaves each year. Give those bulbs the drainage they need by planting on a slope (never in a soggy spot). No slope, no problem. Create good drainage in a level area where you want to plant daffodils by digging one big hole about 8 inches deep and loosening the soil throughout.

Planting daffodils in groups of 5 or more creates the most eye-catching display of flowers. If you have the space, a hill on the edge of a woodland is an ideal spot for what is called "naturalizing." To achieve this, choose daffodils like 'Ice Follies' that are described as good naturalizers, meaning they will multiply and spread around an area on their own over time. Plant daffodil bulbs in clumps of 10 with spaces between to allow for spreading, then add new drifts each year as you are able.

In garden beds or for naturalizing, a good planting technique for planting large quantities of daffodil bulbs at once is to dig trenches of any irregular shape, like a teardrop. If you want to tuck one bulb at a time in a garden that's already closely planted, use a slim spade or trowel, a bulb-planting tool, or even an auger that attaches to a power drill to create individual holes. Plant daffodil bulbs about 6 inches apart (if you're growing them in a container, you can pack them in about a finger-width apart for a big show).

The American Daffodil Society recommends planting the bottom of the bulb at least 3 times as deep as the height of the bulb. For instance, you'd make a 6-inch deep hole for a 2-inch-tall bulb. Not all daffodil bulbs are the same size, so take a quick measure of your bulbs before you dig.

Mix a sprinkling of phosphorus with the soil in the bottom of the hole or trench. Phosphorus is a nutrient that stays put, so this is the time to place it near the bulb roots. If you have acidic soil, use soft rock phosphorus. For alkaline soil, use seabird guano. Don't add bone meal because it might attract four-legged pests, and don't use the overly strong super phosphate.

Place the bulb into the hole or trench, pointy side up. Mix 1 part compost to about 3 parts soil that you dug out to plant your bulbs, and use this mixture to fill in the holes or trench. Gently tamp down the filled-in soil over the bulbs, and water thoroughly.

photo illustration of bulb planting layered with other plants
Peter Krumhardt

What to Plant with Daffodil Bulbs

While planting daffodil bulbs, you can create a springtime floral rainbow by mixing other spring-blooming bulbs with them. Hyacinths and tulips can go in at the same depth as daffodils, spaced the same way. Even more fun is layering in miniature bulbs that aren't often planted; they're even called the "minor bulbs." Some of these may become squirrel snacks, but most will bloom for you in blue, white, yellow, or pink. For example, try crocuses that bloom before daffodils or grape hyacinths that usually bloom at the same time as mid-season daffodils such as large cups. Smaller bulbs don't need to be planted as deeply, usually about 3 inches will do. Then top the planting area off with your compost and soil mixture, tamp down, and water well.

Another good planting strategy is to place your daffodil bulbs around perennials that will mask the dying bulb foliage in spring. Daffodils don't appreciate extra water in the summer, so choose their plant companions accordingly. If the daffodil location is under trees that leaf out in late spring, pop a collection of dry shade perennials in the ground at the same time you plant the daffodils. For a dry, sunny area, the classic follow-ups to daffodils are daylilies.

How to Transplant Daffodil Bulbs

Snip off the flowers as soon as the blooms fade, otherwise the plant will waste energy producing a seed pod. The leaves will continue to feed the bulbs until the leaves turn yellow (after about 8 weeks). At that time, you can cut off the stem and leaves and put them in your compost pile.

After 3-5 years, your daffodils may produce fewer flowers as they get more crowded. Expand the space for your daffodils by dividing and replanting the bulbs after the leaves die back to the ground. Dig up the bulbs with a garden fork, spread them out, separate any smaller bulbs from the main bulbs, and replant following the directions above.

You can also store your newly divided bulbs until fall planting time. First, rinse off any dirt on the bulbs and set them out to dry for a week. Then place the dry bulbs in mesh onion bags or pantyhose and store them in a cool, dry space. Plant them back into your garden in the fall to help you create an increasingly colorful welcome to springtime.

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