Daffodils spring into action

Narcissus ‘Tete-a-tete’
Stephen McCarthy

Narcissus ‘Tete-a-tete’

Spring has sprung and so have the daffodils under the trees in our garden. We had been away and last time we saw them they were just tight bunches of leaves not long out of the ground

Coming up the drive we were greeted by the large golden trumpets of the variety 'King Alfred', one of the first to bloom. Daffodils always face the sun so it is important to site them where they will be looking at you and not away from you.  Daffodils belong to the genus Narcissus which includes about fifty species that grow naturally in a wide variety of habitats in Europe and North America. Also many thousands of cultivars have been produced over the years.

Daffodils are easily cultivated in full sun or partial shade. The larger species and cultivars are suitable for naturalizing in grass such as the magnificent display in the road island outside Auckland Point School. Smaller specimens are ideal for the front of a border or grown in containers outside or inside. A well-drained soil with lots of humus mimicking their natural woodland habitat suits them fine. They need some moisture but definitely not waterlogged conditions.

One of the most difficult things about making plantings look natural is the need to avoid regular spacings. A friend of mine used to recommend throwing handfuls of bulbs back wards over her shoulder and planting them where they landed. If the conditions suit them they will often then happily naturalize in a very random pattern.

Fresh seed germinates readily but can take up to seven years to produce a flowering bulb. A quicker way is to remove offsets from the originally planted bulb and replant them. I do this as soon as I can see the pale tips of the leaves emerging from the soil in early winter. It is then easy to see where clumps are thus avoiding damaging them with your spade. At this stage they keep growing vigorously without any setbacks. Daffodils also hybridise and we now have a fine selection of different flowers from the original three or four varieties planted some forty years ago.

The smaller species and cultivars are very suitable for growing in containers to be brought inside when in full bloom. Narcissi are deep rooted so a reasonably deep pot is needed. To prepare the pot cover the bottom with stones, put a thin layer of dried lawn clippings or straw over the stones and fill with potting mix.

You can use a standard bulb mix which is available from your local garden centre or you can make your own. Use four parts top soil, two parts peat or well rotted leaf mould, one part sharp sand or crusher dust, plus a general bulb fertilizer as directed. Once mixed this can be used to fill the pot to within approximately 7 cm of the top.

Place your bulbs on the soil leaving 2 to 3 cm between each bulb and cover the bulbs with more mix until the pot is filled up to the lip of the pot. Water thoroughly. Place the pots in a semi-shaded area and water about once a week.

The following are good small species and cultivars for planting in pots.

Narcissus bulbicodium , the Hoop Petticoat daffodil, and its varieties which come from Southern and Western France, Spain, Portugal and North Africa. As its name suggests the yellow funnel shaped cup has the appearance of an old fashioned hoop petticoat.

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The New Zealand bred Narcissus 'Hawera' has up to five dainty canary-yellow hanging flowers. The slim swept back petals are a characteristic of the species from which it was derived, Narcissus triandrus.

Narcissus 'Tete-a-tete' is perhaps the best known of all the dwarf  yellow daffodils and can be often be seen for sale in pots in garden centres. The stems have two to three flowers which have short golden cups and slightly reflexed rounded petals. Each bulb produces more than one flowering stem.

 - Stuff

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