Get ready for daffodil planting time
If the ability to delay gratification is seen nowadays as one of those admirable characteristics that ensure success in a future life, then gardening is a great way to develop it.
From the end of August to October, while for most the garden is winding down, why not plot and plan your spring garden. And high on the list in any spring garden plan are daffodils and narcissi.
Not just a symbol of Welsh pride, the daffodil is one of the UK's most popular flowers and comes in all shapes, sizes and colours. Given that daffodils are so easy to grow, that they work well in all but the most importunate of soils, that they can cope with some shade and that they are not expensive, then it is obvious why we should all be buying daffs for our future gratification.
Plant daffodil bulbs in early autumn, ideally September, and potted bulbs in spring before they come into flower. There are hundreds of varieties out there so to make life a little less complicated we have sifted through and suggested a few that are reliable, beautiful, disease resistant and long flowering. Shortlisted like that, all you need to do is choose the ones you want. Your choose will also influence when you should plant the daffodils.
For those unsure as to how to best incorporate daffodils into their garden here are a few questions and answers:
There are daffodils for February right through to May and they tend to flower for between 6-8 weeks. You can concentrate on trying to achieve a fantastic, dense display of one type of daffodil in March - using a daffodil like Irish Luck which has a really long flowering period is good for this.
Mid season encompasses the majority of daffodils which will flower from mid March through to mid April - depending on what the weather is up to. Minnow, Fortune, Tete a Tete and Thalia, come under this bracket.
Oddly this is more complicated than you might imagine. No longer are daffodils just golden, although there are many of them that are - King Alfred, Irish Luck and Bestseller spring to mind. But there are also fantastic white ones such as the magnificent Mount Hood or little Thalia with its two to three flowers per stalk.
There are dual coloured ones like Red Devon and Jetfire (yellow petals, orange/red trumpet) and Ice Follies and Minnow (white petals, yellow trumpet) and then we also have the pink (yes, pink) daffodil called, of course, Pink Pride.
Bear in mind that most people consider it more effective to try to stick to a mass of one variety than have a hotch potch of many types, which is not to say that off piste and multifarious does not have its advocates too.
The space you have determines the size of daffodil you can plant. So for some, a simple container or pot of daffodils will have to be sufficient. All daffodils work well in containers but if your pot is at all exposed to wind or driving rain it is worth buying either dwarf varieties like Tete a Tete or Canaliculatus or investing in sturdier stemmed varieties that support themselves: Sempre Avanti and Pink Pride grow to about 35cm, are unusual daffodils and would be good candidates for this.
Daffodils can be interspersed for spring interest in borders where most of the action takes place in summer or autumn. The taller varieties like Golden Ducat, Mount Hood and King Alfred are big enough to be mid-border while the little tinies like February Gold and Minnow need to be right at the front to be seen.
The latter look lovely in rockeries too. Lawns can be planted up so long as you don't mind a slightly shaggy sward into April or May because you can only mow six to eight weeks after the flowers and leaves have died back. It is probably advisable to stick to the earlier varieties for lawns proper, but for those of you with woodland, rough grass or orchards, just scatter some of the larger, more robust and late daffodils and plant them where they fall.
Equally what could be more charming than a whole field of wild daffodils which also have the key trait of being able to naturalise well and do so in the dappled shade of a wood. Varieties that naturalise produce more bulblets over time and multiply and spread. We have put together a naturalising daffodil collection which includes Red Devon, Sempre Avanti and Carlton for just such an informal situation. And anyone who has (or is planning) an orchard should invest in our Orchard collection of bulbs at the same time - function and beauty every time.
For those who prefer an unadulterated daffodil, then consider planting the wild daffodil with its gentle yellow colour. The ice white, single trumpetted Mount Hood or bright yellow Bestseller are also classics of the genre. Alternatively for anyone who prefers a full on and frilly flower, then Golden Ducat and the non-identical twins Cheerfulness and Yellow Cheerfulness fulfil that brief. Our collection of AGM Prize Winners include Cheerfulness and the two tone Ellen along with gorgeous Pink Pride.
Any daffodil that is either a jonquil daffodil or had one as a parent, like Cheerfulness, will have a wonderful, sweet and strong fragrance. Many of the dwarf varieties have been bred to have a strong fragrance because they are brought indoors to be forced or are grown in pots where you can actually smell the flowers. Hawera and Minnow have especially notable scents.
Over to you to choose...
And now to the nitty gritty practicalities about how physically to plant a bulb in the great outdoors can be summarised:
1. Prepare the ground. Bulbs are the unfussiest of garden plants. Which also means that they are pathetically grateful for decent soil, adequate drainage and a reasonable amount of organic matter it. (A touch of bonemeal when planting does not come amiss either.) When that happens they flower their socks off and multiply like rabbits.
2. How deep do you plant daffodils? Unless specifically advised to the contrary (as with cyclamen for example) plant your bulbs at least twice, but preferably three times as deep as they are tall. They flower better and naturalise better if they are planted deeper. So, remember, the bad mistake here is not deep enough. And do not plant at even spacings in a regimented fashion. Scattered drifts of 10-15 bulbs generally work best.
3. If drainage is poor, then put a handful of grit or horticultural sand underneath each bulb. Better still find a drier spot. The trick here is to think like a daffodil. From about November to the end May you are either growing, flowering or dying back. For the rest of the year, you are having a well earned rest - and the last place to do that is in a bog.
4. Following on from 3, above, while they are growing, daffodils and narcissi (and all spring flowering bulbs) must not be allowed to dry out.
5. Dead heading. Daffs and narcissi put an enormous amount of energy into producing seed. If they did not, the same effort would go into swelling their bulbs. These then either divide (and multiply) or produce more flowers the following season. So dead-heading improves flowering and naturalisation.
6. Tidying up is not the same as deadheading. Once bulbs have flowered their leaves begin to die and wither away. This is a necessary process - the sap in the leaves flows back down to the bulb so as much of the nourishment contained in the leaves as possible is saved in the bulb. So if the foliage is cut back too soon, those resources are lost to the plant and it will be weaker as a result. It is therefore necessary to wait at least 6 weeks - 8 is better - before cutting down or mowing spent foliage. This is a real consideration when looking at bulbs naturalise in your lawn. It is generally advisable to choose early flowering varieties so they can safely be mown before the grass gets too long.
7. Last, do remember that because bulbs spend so much of their time under the soil, minding their own business they should always be planted in conjunction with other plants with which they will cohabit quite happily. As an example, our daffs are followed by iris alliums and geraniums (not pelargoniums), then peonies, then phlox and then dahlias. Something going on from Febriuary until the first frosts.
Over to you - to plant, to anticipate, and to enjoy.