Tete-a-tete’ daffodil is a popular dwarf variety that blooms early, often coming up through the snow.
Yes, spring is still months away, but now is the time to invest in planting spring-blooming daffodils. Just imagine the dividends — early dwarf daffodils blooming in a snow-covered rock garden, a drift of classic yellow daffodils gilding a hillside or clusters of double daffodils brightening an entry walkway. Plus, they’re affordable, low maintenance, hardy throughout most of the U.S. and pest resistant. As its botanical name Narcissus indicates, the flower contains a “narcotic” alkaloid that’s distasteful and poisonous to deer and rodents.
Bob Berbee, a third-generation bulb distributor, shares the ins-and-outs of planting daffodil bulbs.
Larger bulbs will produce larger blooms. Bob plants this bag of ‘Dutch Master’ bulbs which are 16 cm in circumference.
No doubt, your planning this fall will be richly rewarded with golden blooms next spring. So, to gain some valuable bulb planting tips, I joined Bob Berbee of Ohio-based Leo Berbee Bulb Company as he planted daffodils at a residence in northern Union County, Ohio.
“Daffodils are in my blood,” says the third-generation bulb distributor. “Since I was a little kid, I was helping Dad sort, count and clean bulbs. I liked knowing that each bulb was eventually going to be a flower in somebody’s garden.”
In 1972, Bob’s father, Henk Berbee, opened a wholesale distribution center in Marysville, Ohio, for his father’s bulb company in the Netherlands. Today, the family business sells bulbs in all 50 states to independent garden centers, parks, universities, arboretums and even the Pentagon.
For the bulb planting, I met Bob on a sunny, yet crisp, morning in early November. Bob says the late fall timing is perfect for planting. “Wait to plant as late as possible to keep the bulbs dormant and prevent them from sprouting,” he says.
Bob opened a bag of large ‘Dutch Master’ bulbs, his favorite and also the top-selling daffodil in the U.S. While they range from frilly peach doubles to white-cupped ones, Bob says he prefers the classic yellow-trumpeted daffodils. In addition to the all-yellow ‘Dutch Master’, he says ‘Carlton’ and ‘King Alfred’ are two other similar foolproof favorites. For a double variety, he recommends ‘Tahiti’ that has a strong stem to support the heavy blooms.
When buying daffodil bulbs, Bob recommends investing in larger bulbs, ideally 16 centimeters in circumference. “The bigger the bulb, the more foliage and blooms you’ll have,” he says. On one bulb, Bob points out a small side bulb and explains that one way daffodils multiply is to produce these side bulbs, which grow and send up their own foliage and flowers. Later, the bulb clusters can be divided and transplanted throughout the garden.
Daffodils thrive along the sunny edge of woodlands, on hillsides and in perennial beds.
Daffodils are ideal spring flowers. They’re low maintenance, affordable and pest resistant.
In addition to bulb size, Bob says gardeners should consider the timing of the blooms — early, mid or late season. Some gardeners even plant a mix of bulbs for a sequence of blooms. Another selection factor is the daffodil plants’ height, with smaller ones better suited for the edge of a border. He offers another design tip: “I like to plant daffodils in between perennials to hide the daffodils’ old, dying foliage until it’s time to cut the leaves back.”
It’s now time for planting, and Bob has chosen a perennial bed with plenty of full sun. Here, the loose, rich soil has been amended with compost and drains well. Bob says hillsides and sunny edges of woodlands are also good places for growing daffodils.
Bob follows the general rule of thumb to plant daffodils at least two times as deep as the bulb is high. In this bed, he digs a hole 6 inches deep and 12 inches wide to accommodate five bulbs.
“I prefer planting bulbs in clusters for a bouquet look,” he says. “It’s prettier than a single daffodil or a straight row of them.”
Next, he places the bulbs — pointed ends up — in the base of the hole and sprinkles them with a tablespoon of bonemeal. Finally, he fills the hole with the soil and gently tamps the soil with his foot. He and his landscape crew continue planting the remainder of the bulbs. A few even use a power drill outfitted with an auger to speed up the process.
With the job complete, Bob shared a few parting tips:
• “After the blooms fade, leave the foliage until the leaves are easy enough to pull by hand. If you have to use pruners to trim the leaves, it’s too early. Dad would always say daffodils’ foliage provides energy for the next year’s bulb, so the longer you wait to remove the foliage, the better chance the bulbs will have to refuel for next year’s blooms.
• “After blooms fade, top-dress the bulbs with a fertilizer high in phosphorous.
• “Try some of the season’s newest varieties. ‘St. Patrick’s Day’ is a large yellow daffodil with a tint of green and ‘Recurvus’ is a white daffodil with recurved petals and a red-rimmed cup.”
Try one of these daffodil favorites. From left to right; ‘Fortune’, ‘Actaea’, ‘Fortissimo’, ‘Barrett Browning’, ‘Dutch Master’ and ‘Carlton’.
When shopping for daffodil bulbs, it helps to learn a little daffodil anatomy. England’s Royal Horticultural Society has set 13 official daffodil divisions, including trumpets, doubles and those with butterfly-like split cups and multi-stemmed blooms. The center of a daffodil may be called a trumpet, a cup or a corona and can be long or short, plain or ruffled, split and even doubled. Sizes range from 6-inch miniature daffodils to 24-inch large trumpeted ones.
To learn more about daffodils, attend a local American Daffodil Society meeting or visit the organization’s website at www.daffodilusa.org.
In addition to local garden centers, here are several online sources:
Brent and Becky’s Bulbs
John Scheepers, Inc.
McClure & Zimmerman
Mitsch Novelty Daffodils
From State-by-State Gardening September/October 2012. Photography by Teresa Woodard.