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A Host of Lovely Daffodils

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Narcissus 'Barrett Browning' Dennis Werner ©

Narcissus ‘Ice Follies’
Dennis Werner ©

A host of golden daffodils tossing their heads in sprightly dance, as William Wordsworth’s poem describes them, is truly one of the delights of spring. And even though gardeners seem divided on what to call these beauties—daffodil, jonquil or paperwhite—one thing they can agree on is that these plants in the Narcissus family are timeless, elegant classics enjoyed by both the novice and experienced gardener alike.

The charm of Narcissus is its flower shape, consisting of an outer perianth and an inner corona or trumpet. Single-colored cultivars range from the creamy white of ‘Mount Hood’ to the golden yellow of ‘King Alfred’ and ‘Dutch Master.’ ‘Ice Follies’ is a popular bicolor, with a white perianth and ruffled yellow trumpet. Even more spectacular are the orange trumpeted bi-colors such as ‘Barrett Browning.’ Don’t forget double blossoms such as ‘Yellow Cheerfulness’, or miniatures such as ‘Minnow’, which stands only 10 inches tall with multiple blossoms per stem. The variety is endless—I got to 75 in the JC Raulston Arboretum database before I stopped counting—though unproven cultivars should be tested in your garden on a limited scale.

Narcissus 'Cantabile' Dennis Werner ©

Narcissus ‘Cantabile’
Dennis Werner ©

Time of flowering varies greatly among cultivars and presents gardeners with the opportunity to have a continuously blooming daffodil bed from December through March. What could be a more cheerful addition to the winter landscape?

Full to partial sunlight is best. The blossoms generally will turn to face the sun. Make use of companion plants to keep the bed interesting through summer. Don’t cut the foliage back until it has faded, which leaves the bed a bit messy.

When flowering performance wanes, it’s time to divide. Just as the foliage fades is the best time. Share extra bulbs with friends or plant into a new bed. A soil test will tell you which nutrients to add, though in general any slow-release garden fertilizer should suffice.

The paperwhite cultivars, not hardy in North Carolina, are popular for indoor forcing.

Paul McKenzie