Narcissus Flowers: Daffodils and Jonquils To Brighten The Garden
Narcissus flowers are beautiful, low maintenance plants. We've shared our best daffodil care tips here and will provide a full growing guide!
We all love the early flowers of the spring months. But some of these should be started in the fall to produce those gorgeous displays. Narcissus flowers are high on that list.
Daffodils, jonquils, and narcissus are all from the same genus of plant, and are easy plants to care for. These produce bright, showy flowers in sunny spots, delighting the eyes. And a few even produce a sweet scent, too!
Excited to see narcissus flowers springing up after a cold winter? You’re not alone. Read on to discover exactly how to have this prolific spring surprise appear!
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Quick Care Guide
|Common Name||Narcissus, daffodil, jonquil, daffadowndilly, asphodel, trumpet flower|
|Scientific Name||Multiple Narcissus species|
|Light||Full sun to partial shade|
|Water||Keep soil moist in winter, 1” water during growing season|
|Soil||Well-draining, rich soil|
|Pests||Aphids, bulb mites, narcissus bulb flies, stem nematodes, western flower thrips, snails & slugs|
|Diseases||Basal rot (fungal-caused or moisture-caused), botrytis narcissicola, narcissus yellow stripe virus, narcissus mosaic virus, narcissus latent virus, narcissus degeneration virus, and a number of other virii|
All About Narcissus Flowers
The genus Narcissus is very large, and covers a lot of ground. A wide number of plants are included in this genus.
The American Daffodil Society has established thirteen separate divisions of narcissus. These divisions are usually based on the shape of the flower, as it’s the easiest identifier.
Narcissus flowers have three basic components. At the back of the flower is the hypanthium, sometimes referred to as the floral tube. This is the point at which the flower joins the stem. Tepals, or the petals that form the base of the flower, sit low on the perianth (base) of the flower. Finally in the center is the corona, which forms the well-known tube or trumpet-like shape.
Most people identify narcissus, daffodils, or jonquils solely from that corona. Some varieties are more distinctively-shaped than others, but they’re all beautiful!
Miniature cultivars can fall into any of the American Daffodil Society’s divisions. These are usually hybrids or crossbreeds which have been cultivated for their size.
The divisions currently in use include the following list.
- Trumpet Daffodils: These have a large corona or “trumpet” in the center of the flower with petals as long as the outer tepals, with one flower per stem,
- Large-Cupped Daffodils: One flower to a stem, large corona which is more than a third of the length of the outer tepals but shorter,
- Small-Cupped Daffodils: One flower per stem, small corona which is less than 1/3rd the length of the outer tepals,
- Double Daffodils: One or more flowers per stem, has doubling of the outer perianth tepals or the corona or both,
- Triandrus Daffodils: 2+ flowers per stem, has the distinct look of Narcissus triandrus with slightly backward-flexed perianth tepals,
- Cyclamineus Daffodils: One flower per stem, perianth tepals bent backwards from the corona, distinct Narcissus cyclamineus look,
- Jonquilla Daffodils: 1-5 flowers per stem typical, corona may be cup, funnel, or flared in shape, wider than long, and may be scented,
- Tazetta Daffodils: 3-20 flowers per thick stem, usually fragrant, with perianth tepals curling slightly forward,
- Poeticus Daffodils: white perianth tepals with a disc-shaped or short corona, has characteristics of Narcissus poeticus,
- Bulbocodium Hybrids: 1 flower per stem usually, extremely large corona with minimal perianth tepals
- Split-Cupped Collar or Papillon Daffodils: Two variations (collar or papillon) of daffodil with split corona rather than tubed,
- Other Daffodil Cultivars: Narcissi which don’t fall into the above categories, usually those which are inter-category hybrids,
- Daffodils Distinguished By Botanical Name Only: Species, wild variants, and wild hybrids found outside established gardens.
It’s estimated that there’s as many as 32,000 cultivars of these beautiful flowers. But what is the difference between a daffodil and a jonquil? And is there a difference between narcissus and daffodil flowers?
The simple answer is that jonquils usually fall into the Jonquilla division. More rarely, they may be identified by their botanical name for wild specimens.
The terms narcissus and daffodil are usually interchangeable otherwise. Exceptions to this rule do exist! Paper White narcissus is a prime example, as they use narcissus as a common name. But for the majority, the terms are easily swapped.
Obviously, this can cause a little confusion, especially when identifying particular specimens. This is why specific cultivar names are used to identify narcissus flowers as much as possible. It’s much simpler that way!
Caring For Narcissus Flowers
Surprisingly low maintenance, your daffodils and jonquils are easy to care for. Once you’ve provided the perfect environment for them, you’ll have years of flowers.
But daffodil care is not without tricks. Knowing when to plant daffodil bulbs is important. There are specific daffodil light requirements, and watering daffodils may take practice. Let’s go over the most important aspects of growing daffodils and jonquils now!
Planting Narcissus Flowers
Your bulbs should be planted in the fall months, roughly 2-4 weeks before the ground freezes. Be sure to wait until summer’s heat starts to ebb away.
It’s also important to get your bulbs into the ground as quick after purchasing them as possible. Waiting too long can cause them to start to shrivel. If you have to wait, store them in a dry and well-ventilated area that’s a constant 60-65 degrees F (15-18 degrees C)… but don’t wait too long!
Select a location with lots of sunlight. Partial shade is also okay, as long as they’re able to get a reasonable amount of daytime sun. Hillsides and raised garden beds are perfect, but these can also be grown in deep containers if needed.
Once you’ve prepared your soil, measure the height of your bulb. Normally, you’ll want to plant it as deep as twice its height. For instance, if you have a 2″ tall bulb, plant it at least 4″ deep. Plant deeper in sandier soil, or more shallowly in clay soil.
Looking for tons of flowers? You’ll need to plant a lot of bulbs. Many varieties of narcissus flowers only produce a single flower per stem. Be sure you know what type you’re planting!
People in warmer climates should find out if their bulbs have been pre-cooled. This treatment is often done by growers to simulate colder winter months.
If your supplier has not pre-cooled the bulbs, you may need to do it yourself. Store your bulbs in a ventilated bag in the refrigerator. Paper towels can help absorb excess moisture. Keep them in the 40-50 degree F (4-10 degrees C) range for 12-16 weeks before their fall planting.
Light & Temperature
Full sun is perfect for narcissus flowers. Some varieties will tolerate partial shade as well, as long as they get at least 6 hours of sun a day.
These plants are surprisingly cold-tolerant. In the United States, they grow all the way to the Canadian border! All narcissus plants require a certain amount of cold for flowering in the spring. They’re accustomed to cooler temperatures.
Optimal perennial growth can be achieved in USDA zones 4-8. With careful monitoring, that can be stretched to zones 3-9. In zones 10-11, narcissi work best as annual plants but require cold treatment.
While cold temperatures don’t kill bulbs, temps below 29 degrees F (-2 degrees C) may damage the plant. If you have a “false spring” condition that causes your plants to start to grow early, be careful. A sudden cold snap can cause damage to tender buds or flowers.
Protecting from those cold snaps is as easy as installing a cold frame. If you don’t have a cold frame, place some stakes that are taller than your plants in the bed. Drape a plastic sheet or an old bedsheet over the stakes, keeping it from touching the plants. This helps to maintain the ground warmth.
Mulching at the base of your plants also maintains ground warmth. It has the added bonus of protecting your bulbs from extreme cold conditions. This can be a real plus if you’re in areas which have very cold winters.
Water & Humidity
Watering your daffodils should be easy. But to many, it seems a bit confusing. Let’s make it super-simple!
When your narcissus bulbs are first planted, water deeply. This ensures that the soil around the bulbs is moist, but not soggy. Keep it moist.
As your plants begin to produce leaves and buds, increase your watering frequency. At that point, you should be providing about an inch per week. This should be ample moisture for your growing plants.
Only water your narcissus flowers in the morning, as this allows the plants to drink their fill early in the day. The added moisture they’re holding will fill the cell walls of the plant. This adds an extra layer of protection against sudden freezing conditions. Humidity conditions for these plants are variable, and they tolerate a range of conditions.
For narcissus flowers, drainage is key. Excess water lingering around your bulbs may promote rot conditions.
To avoid this, prepare your beds by loosening the soil to at least 12″ deep. Work in a quality compost, and if you wish you can add other soil looseners. A well-draining potting soil blend will also work.
Your soil should be able to hold moisture but drain off any excess quickly. Both clay-like or sandy soils will work, but it’s easiest to have looser soil.
The range for soil pH should be between 6.0 and 7.0. Narcissus likes a slightly more acidic soil. If your soil tends towards alkaline, you may need to amend with soil sulfur or another acidic agent. Be sure to perform a soil test before you amend it!
Low-nitrogen fertilizer is best for narcissus flowers. While high nitrogen can promote vivacious growth of foliage, that’s not necessary. These plants need the extra phosphorous and potassium to build beautiful blooms.
Ideally, use a 5-10-10 fertilizer as your leaf tips start to emerge. You can top dress with this for older plantings, or just scratch a little into the first inch or so of soil for newer ones.
When your plant starts to flower, supplement with an 0-10-10 top-dressed fertilizer. The combination of these two fertilizers should be enough for the season.
Daffodil propagation can be handled two ways: by seed, or bulb division.
When daffodils flower, fertilized flowers will produce seeds. It can take up to five years for those seeds to start to flower once planted. Needless to say, this can be a very long and slow process.
Bulb division is much more commonplace. Young bulbs produce clones of their parent plant, so it’s also much more reliable than seed. Cross-pollination of seeds can create interesting hybrids, though!
Dividing daffodils can happen every 3-5 years, but isn’t absolutely necessary. Of the bulbing plants, narcissus flowers tend to be more accepting of crowded spaces. If you’re looking to expand your garden, it’s a great way to get new plants for free!
You can divide bulbs at any time that they’re not actively flowering. I recommend doing it while the foliage is still attached as it’s easier to locate the bulb bases. The foliage can be vibrant and green or can already have yellowed.
Begin by loosening the soil around your daffodils with a shovel. Be careful not to accidentally cut into the bulbs or their root systems. You’ll need to go at least 12″ below the soil’s surface.
Once the soil is loose around the plant, slide the shovel blade beneath the bulbs. Using caution, pry the mass loose, soil and all. You can then dust excess soil off to reveal the bulbs.
Those which have already sent up foliage should be easy to separate and come right apart. Young immature bulbs without foliage should be left attached to the parent plant.
Smaller bulbs may take a few years before they begin to flower. These will still produce foliage and can be quite beautiful. You can store these in mesh bags or dry peat moss without their tops until the fall. Check them regularly to make sure they aren’t rotting or withering. They can be replanted immediately as well.
Larger bulbs are much the same, but have a higher likelihood of flowering in the spring than smaller ones. Either store these in dry peat moss or mesh bags, or replant them immediately.
Be sure to inspect the original parent bulb. If it’s withered or shows signs of damage or rot, don’t replant it. If it looks like it’s in good condition, go ahead and replant it, and it’ll go back to reproducing.
Repotting is identical to the original bulb planting process. You can opt to divide a few bulbs when you’re repotting, too!
Choose containers with at least 12″ of soil depth. This allows for plenty of room for root space as well as the bulb itself. Also, if growing in containers, water them more frequently. This prevents the soil from drying out.
If replanting in beds, be sure that the soil is loosened and amended before planting. Plant the bulb at twice the depth it is tall.
As a general rule, there’s very little in-season pruning required for narcissus flowers. You can opt to deadhead spent flowers if you want, but leave the stem intact.
Try to avoid cutting back your plants until after they’ve turned yellow and died back. Daffodils use their leaves to store nutrients to survive during winter dormancy. Until they’ve yellowed, the plant hasn’t extracted all of the nutrients and stored them in the bulb.
Once the plant has yellowed, you can remove all the dead foliage at ground level. Use sterile pruning shears for this purpose as it makes a clean cut. Don’t cut beneath the soil level.
Some people choose to use a lawn mower to shear off end-of-season foliage, and that can work well too. If you’ve got mulch around the plants, set the mower at no lower than 2″ above the ground to prevent hitting the mulch. I find it easier to rake the mulch away if I choose to mow the dead foliage.
Narcissus flowers are considered an ideal plant for most beginners. They’re extremely easy to grow and require very little maintenance. Further, they tend to be very pest and disease resistant! But there are a small handful of issues that may occur. Let’s go over those now.
Bulbs which are small may not flower in the first couple years. It takes time for the bulb to store sugars and other nutrients. Because of this, you’re likely to have foliage emerging, but no flowers. However, larger bulbs should be able to flower. Top dressing with a low-nitrogen fertilizer just prior to flowering is recommended.
Are you seeing poor leaf development in the spring? If so, it might be a sign that you removed the leaves too early the prior year. Always wait to remove the leaves until they’ve completely yellowed. Your plant should improve the following year as long as you allow the bulb to reabsorb its nutrients.
Green peach aphids, foxglove aphids, and a few other varieties are known to feed on daffodils. While the feeding won’t kill the plant, aphids often spread diseases. An insecticidal soap is a great option for eliminating aphids.
Bulb mites are trickier. There are no good treatment options for these little annoyances. Adults lay eggs in the soil, and when the larvae hatch, they eat into the bulbs. This causes damage that can allow fungal diseases to move in. Examine your bulbs before planting, and if any feel soft or yield to light pressure, destroy them. This helps prevent mite spread.
The narcissus bulb fly is another major problem. Like bulb mites, these lay eggs in the soil which hatch into feeding larvae. Adults look like a tiny bumblebee and are easily trapped using yellow sticky trap stakes. Planting your bulbs deeper can help avoid the larval spread.
Mulching around your plants may help prevent both bulb mite and bulb fly infestation. It also helps keep the soil evenly moist, so it’s a great option.
While they’re less common on narcissus flowers, western flower thrips may appear. These typically feed on the leaves and flower petals. A quality insecticidal soap can help reduce their number. Spraying neem oil can prevent their spread.
Finally, there are a couple creeping pests that can make their home in your daffodil foliage. Common snails and garden slugs may not chew on your plants, but they can become a danger to others. Use a bait to wipe them out before they can do damage to the rest of your garden.
Most narcissus flowers are immune to the majority of common diseases. However, aphids can spread viral diseases. Mites and flies leave open damaged areas that are susceptible to fungal disease.
Because of this, the first line of protection should always be to eliminate pests on your plants. If you don’t, your plants may become infected.
Basal rot is a prime example. Pest damage can allow pythium, rhizoctonia, or fusarium fungi to colonize the bulb. This will eventually kill the bulb and can spread further through your soil.
Rot damage can also be caused by overwatering. Soggy soil allows fungi to rapidly develop around the plant. If your plants are pest-free and in well-draining soil, rot shouldn’t occur.
There are diseases which directly target narcissus flowers.
The narcissus yellow stripe virus spreads through infected aphids. This virus causes leaves to yellow and wilt, and can cause the bulb to soften and succumb to fungal rots. There is no cure, so prevention is your best defense.
A number of other virii impact narcissus as well. Some of these include the narcissus mosaic virus, narcissus latent virus, and narcissus degeneration virus. It’s estimated nearly 25 different viral strains may exist. There are varying symptoms, including streaked leaves and stems, mottled leaf tips, and leaf tip necrosis.
Like with yellow stripe virus, none of these are treatable and must be prevented. You should destroy infected plants. It’s essential to avoid contagion-spreading pests on your narcissi. Keep those aphids far away!
Botrytis narcissicola, a relative of botrytis cinerea, will attack the bulbs. This is most common when the bulbs are being stored indoors, and is called narcissus smoulder. Once a stored bulb is infected, it should be destroyed. Plants in the ground which are showing early symptoms may be saved with a liquid copper sulfate spray.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Do squirrels or rodents eat narcissus bulbs?
A: The bulbs of narcissus flowers contain naturally-forming crystals which are poisonous. Only a few types of insects can actually eat them safely. Because of this, it’s unlikely that any rodents will eat your narcissus bulbs.
Q: Are narcissus flowers safe around pets?
A: All species of narcissus contain alkaloid compounds which make them toxic. The bulbs are the most dangerous, but all parts of the plant have some level of toxicity.
To small pets such as cats and dogs, low doses can cause vomiting, salivation, and diarrhea. Large doses can cause convulsions, tremors, low blood pressure, and cardiac arrhythmia. Livestock such as horses may also be subject to some effects.
Humans are not immune to these plants, although we have less severe responses. Dizziness, stomach aches/upset, and rarely convulsions may result from ingesting narcissus.
Because of these things, it’s not a good choice for a pet-safe garden or a child-safe garden. It’s also wise to wear gloves while working with your plants. Gloves will prevent you from accidentally ingesting any of the sap or plant parts.