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A spring flower favorite & long-lived perennial: Daffodils!

Daffodils grow best in full sun and well-drained soil.
Photo: Julie Weisenhorn, UMN Extension
Nothing beats seeing beautiful spring flowers after a long Minnesota winter. Daffodils are one of the best bulbs for providing color year after year. Brent Heath, owner of Brent and Becky’s Bulbs, recently visited Minnesota and shared his expert knowledge with gardeners here. 

Brent loves many bulbs, and daffodils are one of his favorites. He showed images of daffodils planted 20 to 30 years ago that were still beautiful and had increased over the years. 

Best growing conditions

Two big keys to success with daffodils, according to Brent are full sun and well-drained soil. I thought daffodils could live in shade under some trees, with filtered sun, but Brent said, "No…full sun is essential and 8 weeks for growing the foliage after the flowers have finished," is what he recommends. 

Dry soil in the summer when the bulbs are dormant is also essential; no irrigation or planting with annuals where you will be adding water in the summer. 

Brent had many ideas for using perennials to complement daffodils while allowing the foliage to continue to grow: grasses, daylilies, candytuft, creeping phlox, were some of his favorites. 

He showed a 30-year old daffodil with daylily walk at the New York Botanic Garden. He also likes planting bulbs with ground covers, such as pachysandra or low sedums. He recommended using a hori-hori knife to plant the bulbs. 

Daffodil favorites

A few of Brent’s favorite daffodils are: 

  • ‘Monal’ flowers very early with forsythia 
  • ‘Tete-a-Tete’, a smaller flower with grass-like foliage, the most popular daffodil in terms of what is grown
  • ‘Carlton’, second most popular, is a large flowered daffodil
  • ‘Ceylon’ is Brent’s favorite large flowered daffodil because its flowers for such a long time in the spring. 
  • ‘Sunlight Sensation’, ‘Moonlight Sensation’, and ‘Starlight Sensation’ are three newer daffodils introduced by Brent and Becky that have multiple stems with multiple flowers per stem, making them extremely showy. And all three are fragrant and vary in flower color from white to medium to dark yellow. 

Planting tips

Here are some planting tips for healthy daffodils: 

  • Brent recommended using compost in the bottom of a daffodil bed before you put in the bulbs and also when covering the bulbs. He recommended using an annual mulch of compost to continually “feed the soil.”
  • Plant three to four bulbs per square foot for larger daffodils and up to 10 per square foot for smaller bulbs. 
  • Daffodils like 50-60 degree F. soil temperatures for rooting and the bulbs must have good moisture after planting in the fall. If we have a dry fall and no rain, that means no root growth which could affect the bulb being alive and flowering the following spring. 
Because daffodils have alkaloids they are poisonous to wildlife and are not eaten by deer, squirrels, or rodents. Unlike tulips that are ice cream to so many kinds of wildlife! 

Best time to purchase bulbs

If you are admiring daffodils this spring, now is the time to place your order for fall delivery from many mail order sources. The bulbs will be mailed to you in time for fall planting. 

Or make a note in your calendar to buy bulbs at your favorite garden center this fall. Mail order has the biggest selection, but buying local is easy and supports local businesses. 

For more information on planting bulbs see Planting Bulbs Rhizomes and Tubers from University of Minnesota Extension. 

Author: Mary H. Meyer, Extension Horticulturist and Professor 

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