By Lois Chaplin
When the daffodil blossoms grab gardeners’ attention in February, looking is all they can do. Fall is the time to visit garden centers or shop online markets that stock daffodils and other spring blooming bulbs.
Spring bulbs such as daffodils, tulips and hyacinths need chilling and require cold winters in the ground to bloom. The bulbs are like an onion—dormant—and will sprout roots underground. In spring, after sufficient cold, the leaves and blooms appear.
In commercial production fields, these spring-blooming bulbs are dug for sale at the end of the summer when the foliage dies down. That’s why, unlike so many other nursery plants that are available many months of the year, bulbs have production cycles that limit their availability. The exception to this is buying potted bulbs in bloom in springs, which are a great instant purchase for pots, but can be an expensive way to fill a landscape.
How many bulbs does it take to make a good show? The more the better.
They can be purchased by the dozen and planted according to the spacing directions on the package. Enthusiastic gardeners order them by the hundreds (they are often sold that way by bulb houses online), but be sure to choose varieties that are likely to come back and multiply. Certain daffodils are the best for naturalizing (tulips and hyacinths are less dependable). Some of the proven dafs in Alabama are Butter and Eggs, Ice Follies, King Alfred, February Gold, Carlton, Jack Snipe, Trevithian, Thalia, Salome, Tête-à-tête and Twin Sisters.
Daffodil bulbs will store for a while, so there is no hurry to plant. In fact, it’s best to wait until after the first frost to make sure the ground is nice and cool. However, don’t wait to buy bulbs because if stores sell out, it’s unlikely they will get more this year. Make selections now and hold the bulbs in a dry, cool place such as a dry basement until ready to plant.
In the garden, choose a spot in sun or partial shade with good drainage. Plant the pointed side up; spacing bulbs close so they make a nice show. Generally, spacing is about three times the diameter of the bulbs.
Typically bulbs would be buried in a small hole about twice as deep as the bulb is tall. This is fine for planting in a container or for just a couple of dozen bulbs. However, there are some ingenious methods for planting large numbers of daffodils. After clearing the area of grass or other growth, spread a layer of compost a couple inches thick on the ground to make a bed for the bulbs. Set the bulbs on top of the compost, and cover with 4 inches of compost so the bulbs are buried on top of the ground. This no-dig method makes it easy to plant hundreds of bulbs to create large drifts or a river of daffodils.
When dafs are happy, they will multiply. Each spring, leave the foliage until it naturally turns yellow and flops over. The leaves allow the plant to re-energize for next year’s show. Mowing or cutting weakens the plants, and they may not return.
Lois Chaplin is an accomplished gardener and author. Her work appears here courtesy of Alabama Farmers Cooperative.