Daffodil Daft

If you were smart enough to plant daffodil bulbs back in October, your garden should now be ablaze with the sunshine yellow of these spring blooms.

Narcissus is a common yellow flower grown from a bulb which flowers between February and early May, depending on the variety. There are more than 26,000 daffodil cultivars, coming from a gene pool of 56 species, making choosing which ones to plant in your garden quite tricky but so rewarding if you seek out some more unusual shapes or shades.

Our typical Scottish climate provides ideal growing conditions for daffodils, with cool day time temperatures and long daylight hours – daffodils tend to suffer from disease in warmer, wetter conditions. It is not widely known that Angus and Aberdeen have over 1,300 acres of daffodils growing, and Scotland is one of the leading exporters of daffodil bulbs worldwide. 

The scientific name Narcissus comes from the Greek for deep sleep and is related to the word narcotic. The bulbs contain a toxic alkaloid which gives relief from pain and can induce unconsciousness. It is believed that Roman soldiers carried the bulbs with them into battle to chew on and mask pain when they were wounded. Daffodils are grown today commercially in Wales to provide the drug galantamine, used in the treatment of pain relief and Alzheimer’s disease.

Daffodils are easy to maintain and will spread year on year. Although they will bloom in partial shade, they should be planted in bright sunlight for the best show. 

After daffodils have flowered it is a good idea to deadhead them, otherwise the energy goes into seed production rather than into the bulb for next year’s flowers. Just nip off the dead flower head as you would deadhead any other flower.

Daffodil leaves should not be cut back until after they have turned yellow. Daffodils use their leaves to harness sunlight to create energy, which is then transferred to the bulb and used to create next year’s flower. If you cut back daffodils before the leaves have turned yellow, the daffodil bulb will struggle to produce a flower next year. 

If the dying daffodil foliage really annoys you, you have several choices. If you have daffodils in pots, move the pot to an out-of-the-way position, maybe beside a shed. If the pot they are in is a decorative one and you would like to use it for some other flowers, then carefully tip out the daffodil foliage and bulbs and set them in another pot to let them complete the dying back process. Think ahead for next year and set the daffodils in a smaller pot which can easily slip in and out of the larger, decorative pot.

If those dying daffodils are planted in your borders, you can do some strategic planting to hide the daffodil leaves until they die back. Growing plants in front of, or alongside, daffodils which grow and bloom slightly later will help hide the leaves. So you could plant hardy geraniums just in front, or to the side of your daffodils, as the geraniums are just now starting to grow and spread. Other perennials like lupins or hostas leaf up quickly once they start to come back for the season and so will hide the dying daffodil leaves.

Remember: daffodil leaves should be allowed to die back naturally until they are at least yellow, if not completely dead, before being removed, which should take around 6 weeks. Do also deadhead the flower to prevent it going to seed.

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