how to plant, grow & care for daffodils (narcissi)
complete growing guide
Narcissi – or daffodils as they’re commonly known – are one of the life-affirming flowers of spring. There are daffs that come up early, bringing with them sunshine colour just when we need it most, and there are late-flowering and long-lasting varieties that extend the spring show – combine the two and you’ll have nearly three months of cheery colour and scent in your garden and home. Narcissi are super tolerant of almost any site and situation, and reliable too, with clumps getting bigger and better each year. They’re perfect for cutting, which means bucketfuls of plants to bring indoors each spring. Choose from bright, optimistic yellows to subtle, elegant shades of peach and cream, and from narcissi that look fantastic in pots to those that naturalise in grass. Explore them all in our collection of the very best daffodil bulbs.
- Common name: Daffodil
- Latin name: Narcissus
- Type: Hardy perennial
- Height: 8cm (3in) to 40cm (15in)
- TLC rating: Easy
- Aspect: Full Sun, Part Shade
- Planting position: Borders, Containers, Grass
- Suitable for pots: Yes
- Good for pollinators: Yes
- Good for cut flowers: Yes
how to grow daffodils
where to grow daffodils
Soil type: Narcissi are very tolerant bulbs. They’ll grow well on a light, sandy soil and they also grow happily with me on heavy clay if I add lots of grit to their planting position.
Aspect & position: Full sun is ideal, but daffodils will tolerate partial shade. The Lenten lily, N. pseudonarcissus, our wild native daffodil grows in dappled shade in deciduous woods.
when to plant daffodils
Plant your daffodils from September to November.
how to plant daffodils
planting daffodil bulbs
Daffodils can be planted any time from early autumn to early winter. Plant the bulbs pointy end up in a hole that’s about three times the length of the bulb. Space them about 7-10cm (3-4in) apart. Water in well.
You can also plant narcissi with dahlias in the same bed in two tiers, giving you wonderful flowers to enjoy from February to April, and then from midsummer until the first frost.
growing daffodils in a pot
Plant your narcissi in pots from September-November. Fill your containers with peat-free compost and plant bulbs 10-15cm (4-6in) deep, pointy end up.
Plant them more closely than you would in the ground, leaving just 5cm (2in) between bulbs – this will give you a container crammed with daffs.
You can also use narcissi in a pot with other bulbs, such as tulips, as part of a bulb lasagne.
planting and naturalising daffodils in grass
It’s best to plant narcissus bulbs in grass in the late autumn, after the last mow of the year. This has the added advantage that you’ll see the flowers much more clearly with the grass cut short.
When planting in grass, remember to go for a very natural look, avoiding straight lines and regimental spacing. Scatter the bulbs from the bag with a sweep of your hand like a sower sowing seed, and then plant each bulb where it falls.
Use a bulb planter with a long handle like a spade. It acts like a corer, removing a cylinder of soil. On heavy soil, add a little grit or spent compost to the newly dug hole, drop in the bulb and move on to the next. As you cut the second hole, this dislodges the first core of soil still sitting in the bulb planter and this can then be placed over your first bulb.
There are a couple of final things to remember with planting in grass: first, don’t cut the grass and bulb foliage until all the bulb leaves have turned yellow; and second, don’t add any fertiliser. This feeds the competing grass more than your bulbs. If the soil is very poor you can use a sprinkling of potash.
how to care for daffodils
Water the bulbs in well when you plant them. After that, it’s okay to leave them be as they will be watered by rain through the winter. If there’s a long dry spell, water accordingly, paying particular attention to pots.
On poor soil, it’s worth giving almost all spring-flowering bulbs a potash feed in the early spring. This helps feed the bulbs and will encourage them to stick around and flower on and on for years. We use comfrey pellets, rich in natural potash.
To deadhead daffodils, cut the stem above the leaves. Deadhead them once they have flowered to help divert energy to building up reserves in the bulb rather than for seed production. Do not remove the foliage; leave it for at least six weeks after flowering – or longer – and this will also help next year’s flowers. Mowing daffodil foliage off too early when they’re planted in grass is the most common cause of blind, non-flowering bulbs. So leave the leaves to die back naturally without snipping off or tying in knots.
There is an exception to the deadheading rule with varieties such as N. pseudonarcissus and other species which will self-sow. With these, leave the seed heads on until they have opened and dispersed their seed (around late May-June).
Daffodil bulbs can stay in pots and in the ground for years. If your bulbs are in pots, refresh the compost every year to provide nutrients for the bulbs.
If the bulbs are in the ground and they have clumped up over a few years, you can divide overcrowded groups in late summer and plant offsets in other parts of the garden.
Water during any prolonged dry spells, especially narcissi that are planted in pots and may be sheltered from rain by buildings.
- Feed with a comfrey pellet fertiliser in early spring.
- If you’ve chosen early and late-flowering varieties, you can enjoy a succession or narcissi from February to April.
- Pick daffodils for your vases and deadhead daffodils once they’ve flowered, leaving foliage in place.
- Once daffodils have died back naturally and completely, cut back the foliage.
- Start planting paperwhites, narcissus papyraceus, if you want flowers inside from November.
- You can start planting daffodil bulbs from September to November.
- Divide established daffodil clumps and plant them elsewhere in the garden.
- Leaves will start to emerge over winter, these will put up with frost and snow.
pests, diseases & common issues
Daffs that come up with only foliage, and no flowers, are known as blind. This is more common in bulbs that have been in the ground for more than a year.
Poor soil lacking in nutrients can also cause narcissus blindness. Daffodil bulbs in pots should be given a fresh source of nutrients each year – replace at least half of the compost in the pot. If they are in the ground, mulch the soil with well-rotted horse manure to enrich it.
Another reason for blind bulbs is overcrowding; if bulbs have become congested, lift and divide them, replanting into fertile, well-drained soil or compost.
Poor drainage or poor quality bulbs can also be to blame. Another problem could be removing the foliage of the daffodil when deadheading – only deadhead the stems, leaving the foliage to die back completely before cutting.
narcissus bulb fly
If your daffodils fail to come up, or produce foliage but no flowers, you may have bulb fly. To be sure, you’ll need to dig up a bulb and check for the blub fly maggots or larvae that feed on the bulb.
Planting narcissi in exposed places helps reduce the likelihood of attack, as bulb fly likes drier, sheltered areas.
why are my daffodils not flowering?
Daffodil blindness can affect some bulbs and lead to daff foliage with no flowers. Or it may be narcissus bulb fly.
why are my daffodils growing in September, October, November?
Bulbs may have been planted too early and with our changing climate they may send up leaves early in the season. A cold spell will stop them in their tracks and they’ll start into growth again in late winter.
Planting at the correct depth will also help reduce the impact of variable autumn temperatures.
will snow kill my daffodils?
I’ve never had a problem leaving daffodil bulbs in the ground over winter. But you do need to mulch deeply to protect them from the coldest weather – it’s like giving them a duvet for winter.
why are my daffodils so short?
Some varieties of daffodils are shorter than others. If the growth looks stunted, it could be that they have been infected by a virus, if there is evidence of this the bulbs should be discarded.
why are my daffodils falling over?
Bad weather – heavy rains and strong winds – can cause stems to bend. Another reason could be shallow planting; make sure the bulbs are planted a depth that’s three times the length of the bulb.
frequently asked questions
are daffodils poisonous or edible?
All parts of the daffodil are toxic.
are daffodils good for bees?
Bees aren’t big fans of narcissi, but other pollinators will appreciate the trumpet flowers.
do daffodils spread, multiply and come back every year?
Narcissi are hardy perennial bulbs, so with proper planting and care they will come back every year. They can clump up and spread over the years.
will daffodils grow in shade?
Partial shade is tolerated by most narcissi varieties, but they prefer full sun.
are daffodils native to the UK?
Most narcissus are native to Europe and North Africa. Narcissus pseudonarcissus is a wild daffodil that is native to the UK.
what’s the best way to store narcissus bulbs?
Place them in a paper bag or net and keep them in a cool, dry place. You don’t want them to get too cold, damp or warm. A shed or cellar is ideal.
do deer and squirrels eat narcissus bulbs?
It’s unlikely deer or squirrels will be interested in your daffodil bulbs.
why are daffodils called narcissus?
In Greek mythology, Narcissus was a hunter who fell in love with his reflection in a pool of water. Unable to tear himself away from his reflection, he drowned trying to get a better look and narcissi flowers grew up where he had been sitting.
is it illegal to pick daffodils?
Most daffodils are planted intentionally in a managed public space, such as a park or on a roundabout, and it’s illegal to pick these. Some wild flowers are also protected, so it’s best to enjoy the flowers in their surroundings and leave them there so that others can do the same.
how to cut & arrange daffodils
Narcissi make great cut flowers lasting up to a week in the vase. I love their jolly exuberance jumbled up in large jugs on the table. Be careful mixing with other flower types as their stems give off a compound that is toxic to other flowers. Soak their stems in warm water before displaying to stop the 'goo' from running out.
Get more inspiration for displaying your flowers with our flower arranging videos: