How to plant daffodils and narcissi

Daffodils and narcissus bulbs are best planted from September to November.  They are suitable for planting in the border, in containers and can also be naturalised in the woodland garden or grass. They will tolerate most soils but prefer moderately fertile, slightly alkaline soil that’s well-drained and moist during the growing season. They prefer full sun to partial shade.

All parts of daffodils and narcissus are poisonous and should not be eaten as they contain compounds which can cause stomach discomfort and nausea.  The bulbs can be poisonous to cats and dogs. Wear gloves when handling and planting daffodils and narcissus bulbs.

Always unpack bulbs on arrival and store in a cool, dry place until ready to plant.

If you’re planting daffodils and narcissus in pots, make sure you use a good multi-purpose compost or soil based compost, adding a little grit to help drainage if necessary. Keep the pots in a cool area of the garden ensuring the soil is moist but not wet - exposure to heat could cause the flower buds to die off. They can be moved once the leaves appear. You can line the pots with polystyrene wall lining to provide frost protection. This will also help prevent excessive wind drying the soil when hitting the sides of the pots.

Plant the larger varieties around 15 cm deep - if planting in grass or light soil plant slightly deeper. For smaller flowering varieties plant around 10 cm deep. Allow around 50-60 bulbs per square meter for larger varieties and for the dwarf varieties around 75-100 bulbs per square meter. If the bulbs are planted too shallow this will encourage them to split and divide, producing little or no flower.

Late flowering varieties should be watered during dry spring weather as they are prone to non-flowering if left to dry. Use a high potash fertiliser every couple of weeks during the growing period to promote the flower storage for the following year. This can be stopped when the flowers appear. If you garden organically liquid seaweed is ideal - it’s organic and comes from a sustainable source.  Nitrogen fertilizer is best avoided for daffodils and narcissus.

Dead-head the flowers as soon as they begin to fade to prevent seed production but leave the foliage to die back naturally for at least six to eight weeks - for Pseudo and Cyclamineus varieties, delay dead-heading until the seed has dispersed. Knotting the leaves is not recommended and removing the leaves too early prevents the bulbs receiving nutrients which aid food storage for a healthy bulb next year.  Lift and divide the clumps of bulbs if flowering is sparse or if the bulbs are congested.

Potential problems, pests and diseases:

Narcissus bulb fly can be a problem for daffodils and narcissus, laying its eggs at the base of the foliage. As they hatch, the larvae will go down and burrow through the basal plate, eating the centre of the bulb as they grow.  This results in grass-like growth or the non-appearance of foliage. The bulbs can recover from this attack, but it may take 3-4 years before they will flower again.

Slugs and snails usually cause only minor damage to the foliage, but it is possible for them to eat the entire flower.

Narcissus basal rot is a serious fungal disease which is becoming an increasing problem due to high summer temperatures. You might first notice this when the leaves turn yellow earlier than normal and the bulb is usually not recoverable. It is important to lift and destroy the bulbs as soon as possible to prevent the rot from spreading and the use of fresh manure should be avoided.

Yellow stripe virus is spread by aphids and appears as yellow striping in the leaves or stems. It is not curable, so dig out infected bulbs and destroy them.

Daffodil blindness occurs when they come up with foliage but no flowers, even if the daffodils have flowered well in previous years. To help prevent daffodil blindness, try improving compacted soil before planting, by adding a few inches of compost to the top layer or by aerating the soil. Avoid planting bulbs in very dry or shady areas. You can improve dry soil by mulching with organic matter.  If the clumps are overcrowded, lift and divide them after the foliage has died back. Continue to improve the soil with organic matter and general fertilizer high in potash. Replant the bulbs around 10-15 cm deep and around 5-8 cm apart.

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