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daffodils growing in garden bed
Nothing says "spring" like an explosion of colour, and there’s not much that can add a colour blast quite the way a daffodil can.

 

What you need to know about a daffodil

Name: daffodil (Narcissus species and cvrs)

Plant type: spring flowering perennial herbaceous bulb

Height: extremely variable, generally around 30–50cm

Foliage: variable, 30–50cm long, weeping with age, around 2cm wide and strap-like. Green to grey-green.

Climate: sub-tropics, warm and cool temperate.

Soil: ideally a good-quality free-draining soil, but adaptable to most types, except wet soils.

Position: sun through to part shade.

Flowering: spring flowering

Feeding: apply a controlled-release fertiliser at planting time and liquid feed with seaweed or organic products as buds begin to develop.

Watering: water during active growth periods.

Appearance and characteristics of a daffodil

There’s something inherently fascinating about bulbs. Daffodil bulbs look more like a small onion than anything else—you wouldn’t think them capable of anything spectacular but come spring they do the ugly duckling proud!

A fountain of foliage erupts, seemingly overnight, and in next to no time this is followed by the most delightful of flowers. Generally bright yellow and ridiculously cheerful, the daffodil is the real harbinger of spring, the promise of warmer times.

Daffodils and jonquils are very closely related. Some gardeners swear they planted daffodils, only to find that they have jonquils. Both plants are in the genus Narcissus and have been so heavily interbred and cross-bred that they are rarely referred to by a species name. Instead, they are placed into one of more than ten “groups”, based mainly on their flower form.

The typical daffodil flower would be best described as bright yellow and shaped like a cup and saucer turned sideways. Most have a somewhat drooping or downward facing angle, but there are countless variations in size, form and colour.

Foliage is typically long, thin and green with a definite grey-blue tone. As daffodils and jonquils are so closely related, trying to work out which is which by foliage alone is not going to be reliable.

In texture and colour, the bulbs themselves are very similar in appearance to a small brown onion, but they have more of a teardrop shape.

Yellow daffodil flowers

Uses for daffodils

A daffodil can be planted for a variety of uses, including:

  • Planting in drifts in garden beds beneath plants such as roses or between perennials.
  • Mass planting under deciduous trees.
  • Border plantings, where they will receive adequate summer shade.
  • Potted features.
  • Adding spring colour.

How to plant and grow a daffodil

  • Sunlight: A daffodil will grow best in full sun, but it can be grown in part shade. Those grown in some shade will have much more intense flower colour, but tend to have weak stems.
  • Aspect: Daffodils and their cousins like lots of light when they are in leaf and flower, but as they finish up and go dormant they need shade, especially in warmer regions. If the bulb gets too warm in the ground it will be killed. This is why they are often planted under deciduous trees—winter sun, summer shade. The flower stems, even on robust plants, tend to be fragile, so they need to be in an area protected from wind.
  • Soil: The daffodil is very forgiving and will grow in virtually any soil, provided it is well drained and doesn’t remain wet, especially over winter.  In pots, use either a specialised bulb mix or premium potting mix, ensuring drainage is good.
  • Water: If soil is moist at planting time (generally autumn), then no more watering is required until growth starts in late winter. Water should be reliable during foliage and flower growth, and then as the foliage starts to die back it can be stopped for the season.

Tips for planting a daffodil

Follow these tips for best results when planting your daffodil.

  • Prepare the entire area, not just the planting hole.
  • Compost or manures only need to be added and blended through if soil is poor.
  • Add a quality controlled-release fertiliser.
  • The bulb should be positioned with the flatter root end down, at a depth of around two to three times its height. So if a bulb is 5cm tall, it should be planted around 10–15cm deep.
  • If soil is just slightly damp, no watering is required at planting time.
  • Mulch with a product such as lucerne straw after planting to help retain moisture and keep soil cool.

When to plant a daffodil

In cooler regions, daffodil bulbs should be planted in March and April. In warmer regions of Australia, planting can wait until May.

Caring for a daffodil

Daffodils will do best with a little care:

  • During growth time, apply liquid seaweed or a suitable organic-based liquid fertiliser to strengthen growth and vigour.
  • If you plan to cut the flowers for indoors, do so once the flower stalk has reached maximum height and the flower has developed but not fully opened.
  • Allow foliage to run its full course of growth. It will start to look daggy, but it needs to stay on the bulb for as long as possible to store energy for next year’s flowering. You can keep it looking more cared for by tying it in a very loose loop-and-through “knot”.
  • Prune foliage back once it has become papery and brittle.

Naturalising

Naturalising simply means to leave bulbs to their own growth year after year. Daffodils are the easiest of the bulbs to naturalise and will happily do so in most areas where they grow. To naturalise, they must be planted in a spot that receives summer shade and heat protection. Adding a thick layer of mulch once the foliage has died back can be worthwhile.

Lifting and saving daffodil bulbs

If your area isn’t right for naturalising, or you have been growing in pots, then you can lift and save your bulbs for next season.

  • Once the foliage has died back, gently dig the bulbs up. Spread them out on a board or mesh sheet and place them somewhere cool and dry.
  • Once the foliage becomes paper-like and totally dry, prune it off and the bulbs can then be stored.
  • Store them in something like a paper bag or a recycled orange bag somewhere cool, dry and out of sunlight.
  • Around April Fool’s Day you can put them in the fridge for six weeks to chill before planting.

Diseases and pests

Your daffodil should not be prone to many issues.

  • Very occasionally you may find aphids on new shoots.
  • Bulbs may rot if soil is too wet.

How to propagate a daffodil

Daffodil bulbs are generally purchased, not propagated. The exception to this is naturalised bulbs.
As bulbs grow, they produce offsets or daughter bulbs. If bulbs have been naturalised, then after a few years they can be lifted while dormant and the off-sets can be removed for replanting. The ones that can be removed will be clearly independent of the main bulb and encased in their own skin all around. These are best planted in late summer to begin growth, and it will be at least two years before they flower.

If you like this then try

Tulip: the perfect addition to your spring flowering bulb collection.

Apple tree: with winter sun and summer shade, the space beneath an apple tree is perfect for bulb growing.

Foxglove: coming into bloom as your bulbs finish, foxglove makes a brilliant spring and summer addition to your garden.

Start planting today

Check out our huge range of plants now and get your garden growing!

 

More D.I.Y. Advice

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