How to Grow and Care for Narcissus, Daffodils

Daffodil (Narcissus) 'Mount Hood'
Daffodil (Narcissus) 'Mount Hood'

Narcissus is a genus of about 50 species of bulbous perennials. All are grown for their attractive flowers, borne in spring, sometimes in autumn or winter.

Narcissus with single, long trumpet-like flowers is called daffodils. Those with clusters of small flowers on each stalk are called narcissi. There is little botanical difference between daffodils and narcissi.

Narcissus are easy-to-grow, long-lived plants. Individual flowers last for several weeks in cool weather. There are early-season, mid-season, and late-season varieties. There is short and tall growing narcissus.

Narcissus have leafless stems that bear between 1 and 20 flowers. Each flower has six spreading petals that form a flat or long and narrow cup. The flowers are mostly yellow or white, some have red, orange, or pink coronas. The leaves are basal, often strap-shaped.

Narcissus are hardy. Most narcissi need a climate with a cold winter in order to bloom. After flowers finish blooming, it is best to leave the foliage in place for several months; this allows the bulb to store energy to develop the next year’s flowers.

'King Alfred' Daffodil (Narcissus)
‘King Alfred’ Daffodil (Narcissus)

Get to Know Narcissus, Daffodils

  • Plant type: Hardy spring-blooming bulb
  • Growing Zones and range: 3-11; most types will grow in Zones 4-8; paperwhites are best in Zones 9-11.
  • Hardiness: Half-hardy; most types withstand heat by needing cold winters.
  • Height and width: 4 to 18 inches (10-45cm) tall, 4 to 10 inches (10-25cm) wide
  • Foliage: Narrow, flat, and strap-shaped leaves from the base of the plant
  • Flower form: A central corona shaped like a trumpet or like a low cup is surrounded by 6 pointed outer petals. Depending on the variety, each flowering stem holds either a large single blossom or a cluster of 2 to 8 smaller ones. Flowers bloom on a leafless stem.
  • Flower colors: Flowers are mostly yellow or white, some have red, orange, or pink coronas.
  • Bloom time: Spring for most types, winter for paperwhites
  • Uses: Beds, borders, cutting
  • Common name: Narcissus, daffodils
  • Botanical name: Narcissus spp.
  • Family: Amaryllidaceae
  • Origin: Europe and North Africa

Where to Plant Narcissus, Daffodils

  • Plant narcissus and daffodils in full sun; late bloomers will grow under the shade of deciduous trees or in dappled light
  • Grow narcissus and daffodils in humus-rich, well-drained soil that is neutral to slightly acidic.
  • Narcissus prefers a soil pH of 6 to 7.
Paperwhite, Narcissus 'Nir'
Paperwhite, Narcissus ‘Nir’

When to Plant Narcissus, Daffodils

  • Plant narcissus and daffodils in mid-autumn in Zones 3-7; plant in late autumn to early winter in Zones 8-11.
  • Plant seeds in late spring in nursery beds where they will be naturalized.

Planting and Spacing Narcissus, Daffodils

  • Plant narcissus and daffodils 5 to 8 inches (12-20cm) deep depending on the variety. Work compost and bulb fertilizer into the planting hole.
  • A good rule of thumb is to plant narcissus bulbs two to three times deeper than the length.
  • Space narcissus and daffodils 6 to 12 inches (15-30cm) apart depending on the size of the variety at maturity.
  • To naturalize bulbs in grassy areas or beds, toss them onto the ground wherever plants are wanted and plant them where they fall; use a bulb planter to least disturb the surrounding area.
  • Sow seed outdoors 2 inches (5cm) apart, 1/8 inch deep in tilled soil. Fresh seeds will germinate quickly but plants will not bloom for four or more years.

How to Water and Feed Narcissus, Daffodils

  • Daffodils and narcissus want ample water during growth and bloom; keep the soil evenly moist, but not wet. The soil can nearly dry out after plants go dormant in summer. Resume water in the fall.
  • Add bulb fertilizer or bonemeal to the planting hole at planting time; work bulb fertilizer into the soil each spring.
Jonquilla daffodil, Narcissus x 'Silver Smiles'
Jonquilla daffodil, Narcissus x ‘Silver Smiles’

Narcissus, Daffodils Care

  • After bloom, keep moist and fertilize at least once with a balanced fertilizer.
  • Deadhead plants or cut flowers send energy back to the bulb.
  • Allow leaves to yellow and die; this allows bulbs to store nutrients for the next season.
  • Protect narcissus in winter by mulching with 6 inches (15cm) of shredded leaves, pine needles, or straw. Remove the mulch in stages as winter ends allowing shoots to emerge.

Forcing Narcissus and Daffodils

  • To force daffodils, lift the bulbs at the end of summer. Keep them in a warm, dry place until you are ready to begin forcing. Plant several bulbs in a pot; the point of tall bulbs can be above the soil; small bulbs should be covered with an inch of soil. Water and place them in a cool place at 38° to 45°F (3.3-7.2°C). Roots will form in 10 weeks, plants can then be set in a cool, bright room to grow and flower.
  • To force paperwhites, plant them in pots of soil or set them in dishes of gravel or [roopped in glasses of water and growth them in a bright sunlit room between 50° and 70°F (10-21°C).

Growing Narcissus, Daffodils as Houseplants

  • You can purchase plants or force bulbs into bloom yourself.
  • To force bulbs into bloom, plant them in a well-drained soilless medium in fall, with the tip of the bulb 1 inch below the surface of the medium.
  • Tazetta daffodils can be forced using pebbles as the medium.
  • Water well and place the pots outdoors, buried in the ground, or protected in a cold frame for 10 to 12 weeks.
  • If the outdoor temperature does not drop to 35°F, bulbs must be placed in the refrigerator.
  • Move the pots into a room with average temperature, direct light, and average humidity.
  • Bulbs will bloom in 10 days to three weeks. During this time, and until the flowers fade, keep the growing medium evenly moist
  • Fertilizing is not necessary.
  • Tall plants may need to be staked.
  • After flowers fade the bulbs can be replanted in the garden; they can not be forced again indoors.

Narcissus, Daffodils Pests and Diseases

  • Narcissus can be attacked by spider mites.
  • Bulb rot and root rot can occur.

Narcissus, Daffodil Propagation

  • Divide bulbs when plants become crowded and flower size begins to decrease, about once every four or five years.
  • Dig bulbs for division carefully to avoid injuring the bulbs. Gently pull clumps apart with your hand. Discard shriveled or diseased bulbs
  • Replant bulbs immediately or store them in a dry, airy location for replanting in autumn.
Narcissus tazetta
Narcissus tazetta

Narcissus, Daffodils Varieties to Grow

  • There are hundreds of narcissus cultivars. Growers and hybridizers have divided the cultivars into 13 divisions by sizes, flower forms, and colorings. Flower form divisions include trumpet, large-cupped, small-cupped, double, and split corona.
  • Trumpet and large-cups daffodil hybrids are most commonly available and hardy in Zones 3-9, but not where summers are wet.
  • Classic, easy-to-grow daffodils include ‘King Alfred’ (yellow), ‘Mount Hood’ (white), ‘Binkie’ (yellow with a white trumpet), ‘Actaea’ (white with red-gold eye).
  • Smaller narcissi are classes as trumpet, large-cupped, small-cupped, double, triandrus (clustered), cyclamineus (small, reverse-flared), jonquilla (clustered with trumpets), tazetta/paperwhites (clustered, flat cupped), poeticus (pheasant’s eye), species and wild types, and other for those that can not be classified. Large-cupped, small-cupped, trumpet at the most commonly available narcissi.

Narcissus Frequently Asked Questions

Q: How can I grow narcissus as a house plant?

A: Buy bulbs from a reliable source; this will ensure they have been well-grown. Plant in moist bulb fiber, or place in dishes of water and pebbles to which bits of charcoal have been added. Place the bulbs in a cool dark closet or cellar until growth starts. As roots develop bring the plant to more light. Keep it cool. When foliage growth begins to develop, place the plant in a cool, sunny window.

Q: Why do narcissus growing indoors get tall and lanky?

A: They are being grown at too high temperatures. The best daytime temperature is 65° to 70°F. the lower the temperature, the shorter the plants. Moving the plants to a cool garage at night will help keep growth lower and will prolong the bloom time after the flowers open.

Q: Why do narcissus bulbs growing indoors in winter have only leaves and no flowers?

A: The likely reason is that the temperature is too warm.

Q: Can I force next year the narcissus bulbs I forced indoors this year?

A: No. The bulbs will not rebloom indoors a second time. You can plant them in soil outdoors and they may bloom outdoors.

Also of interest:

11 Types of Daffodils for Your Garden


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