How to plant daffodil bulbs

How to plant daffodil bulbs

Grow daffodils in pots, rockeries, the lawn and front of the border

Daffodils growing underneath damson trees in the Lyth Valley, Cumbria (image aove)

There’s nothing like a patch of daffodils, also known as the Lent Lily or Lent Rose, in early spring to raise the spirits and banish a long dreary winter. They are in the garden centres from about the middle of August to the end of November and need to be planted as soon as you buy them, unlike tulips which are better planted in November. There is a huge difference in size with one to suit almost any situation from huge trumpeted forms to tiny dainty multi-flowered plants suitable for growing in a pot indoors or in a rockery. Many of them are sweetly scented so if you are planting near a path or a seating area it is well worth seeking these out. They naturally occur in cool temperate regions from sea-level to 3000m (9840’), being present in most habitats. Most are very hardy but do benefit from mulching with leaf mold; some of the Tazetta varieties need some protection.

White narcissus with pale and dark blue narcissus

White narcissus with pale and dark blue muscari


They need well-drained but moisture retentive acid or alkaline soil so if you have poor dry soil it will have to be improved with good quality peat-free compost or garden compost. Try and avoid overly dry positions, such as directly under trees or along the bottom of a hedge. A heavy soil will need coarse grit added to improve the drainage, but if it stays wet for long periods consider finding another site as the bulbs will rot. They need at least 3 hours of sunshine a day, preferably more, but they will naturalise under deciduous trees.

White narcissus with red and orange tulips

White narcissus with red and orange tulips


Plant about 10cm (4”) deep; shallow planting can produce smaller bulbs whereas planting deeper results in larger bulbs which will produce larger flowers. Choose plump, firm bulbs and discard any that are showing signs of mould, feel soft or which are wrinkled. If you can't plant them straight away keep them somewhere cool, dry and frost free. When planting in the ground apply a balanced fertiliser, such as Growmore, at a rate of 70g per square metre (2oz per square yard) or a mixture of 2 parts bone meal and 1 part hoof and horn.

If planting in pots cover the hole in the bottom with broken crocks and use a good quality peat-free compost mixed with some grit or Perlite; 2 parts compost to 1 part grit. Water after planting, make sure they don't dry out. One variety per pot usually works best as it is sometimes difficult getting several varieties to all bloom together. However if they bloom at different times it prolongs the flowering season, but they can look a bit sparse. Bulbs planted in plastic pots can be used to fill any gaps in the border; just plunge the plot into the soil and lift when they have finished flowering. If you are wanting the bulbs to naturalise in a lawn or on the edge of a woodland garden just throw them up in the air then plant where they fall. They can be forced for Christmas by planting in a pot then placing somewhere warm after a period of about 12 weeks somewhere cool and shady. Leaving them somewhere too warm for too long could result in flowers not forming as they need a period of cold.

Deep pots can be double planted by placing a layer about half-way down the pot, covering with a light layer of compost and then planting another layer in-between the bottom layer. Small and miniature varieties benefit from being planted in a mix of 2 parts peat-free compost to 1 part grit.

Beds of daffodils and tulips at Keukenhof gardens, Amsterdam

Beds of daffodils and tulips at Keukenhof gardens, Amsterdam


If you haven’t added any fertiliser to the bulbs when they were planted feed with a weak solution of a tomato food after planting until they have finished flowering; this high potash fertiliser will encourage more flowers, or top dress in autumn with a slow release nitrogen based fertiliser. Deadhead after they have finished flowering as letting them produce seed may impair the following years flowering. After they have finished flowering apply a high potassium feed, such as Tomorite, every 1 – 2 weeks to encourage bud formation, until the foliage has gone yellow. Don't knot the foliage or cut it off until it has gone yellow. If they have been planted to naturalise in grass make sure it is not mowed until the foliage has died back. Make sure they are kept damp throughout the growing season until the foliage has died off, as dryness can be a cause of blindness.

Once the foliage has gone yellow the bulbs can be dug up and split to avoid over-crowding. This should only need to be done about every 3 – 4 years and bulbs left to naturalise in a lawn or wood just need to be split when they are not flowering very well. After digging up, clean the bulbs and remove any loose outer covering. Re-plant or store somewhere cool, dark and frost free until the following autumn. Bulbs which have been forced will need to be planted into the ground as they rarely do well in pots the following year.

All white palette of narcissi and tulips

All white palette of narcissi and tulips


Small mammels can be a problem, as they dig up the bulbs, so it may be necessary to protect them by placing chicken wire or a lattice of thorny twigs over them, removing it when the shoots are a couple of inches tall.
Slugs and snails can be a problem when the shoots appear, so they will need protecting with environmentally friendly slug pellets.
Narcissus bulb fly can cause the leaves to become thin and grass-like or kill the plant. The bulbs will have to be dug up and inspected for larvae and damage to the bulb. There is no treatment; the bulbs must be dug up and destroyed, don't put them on the compost heap.
Narcissus eelworm causes distorted, stunted growth. Again the bulbs must be dug up, cut in half and inspected for brown rings. Any infected bulbs, plus bulbs within a radius of 1m, must be dug up and destroyed; and again not put on the compost heap.
Basal rot causes premature yellowing of the foliage and is caused by a fungus. When planting bulbs make sure they are free of any fungus, and again don't compost. As it is a soil borne fungus don't plant bulbs in an area which has been infected.
Blindness can have several causes:

  • dryness after flowering; which impairs bud formation
  • defoliation; cutting off the foliage prevents the plant from making a new bud, knotting leaves also has the same effect
  • not deadheading encourages the plant to put energy into producing seeds instead of a new bud
  • nutrition; if the soil is exhausted by the bulbs being in the same place for years. Feed with Tomorite after flowering and top dress in autumn
  • planting depth; if the bulbs are planted too shallow they will produce a lot of small bulbs which are too small to flower
  • planting too late in autumn
  • overcrowding; usually seen in clumps left to naturalise. Dig up in summer after the foliage has died back and re-plant in the autumn after improving the soil with some fresh compost and a feed of Growmore.

Tazetta narcissus with Crown Imperials and white tulips

Tazetta narcissus with Crown Imperials and white tulips


There are hundreds of varieties ranging in height from 15cm (6”) to over 60cm (24”) and not only in shades of yellow; they also come in white and pink with red and green cups, so there will be one to suit any colour scheme.

  • Cape Cornwall’  -  45 – 60cm (18 – 24”); deep yellow with red edge to cup
  • ‘Cape Point’  -  60cm (24”); white petals with rose pink trumpet   
  • ‘Cheerfulness’  -  45cm (18”); double white with egg yolk centre; scented
  • ‘Fairy Chimes’  -  25cm (10”); yellow; 4 – 6 flowers pre stem; older bulbs multi-stemmed
  • ‘Jetfire’  -  30cm (12”); yellow with long orange trumpet; suitable for pots and front of the border
  • ‘Keats’  -  40cm (16”); white with small green double cup; scented; uncommon
  • ‘Minnow’  -  30cm (12”); white petals with deep yellow cup; scented; small head; prefers full sun
  • Narcissus poeticus var. recurvus (pheasant’s eye)  -  45cm (18”); white petals; yellow cup with deep red edge

For more information, hints and tips about spring bulbs just get in touch with our gardening team here in the Outdoor Plant department.

Profile Image Angela Slater

Angela Slater

Daughter of a farmer and market gardener so have always had a connection with the outdoors, whether it was keeping animals or producing fruit, vegetables and cut flowers. Along with my work at Hayes Garden World I also have a smallholding, mainly breeding rare breed pigs. I gained an HND and BSc in Conservation and Environmental Land Management, as a result I am an ardent environmentalist and have a keen interest in environmentally friendly gardening. In my time at Hayes I worked for several years in the Outdoor Plant and Houseplant areas.