How to Grow Narcissus Flowers
After the harsh cold, some flowers make an entry first and denote the arrival of spring with their variety of beautiful colors, shapes and sizes, and distinct sweet fragrance. These are narcissi or daffodils.
Narcissus is an extremely easy-going plant i.e. this perennial can grow well in a variety of conditions. Thus it’s happy with a sandy, light soil as well as it has no problem to grow in heavy clay added with a lot of gravel to the planting spot.
The plant grows well in full sun and it can also tolerate partial shade. What’s more, it’s quite safe from diseases and pests, and even deer and other varmints. Its bulbs continue multiplying very fast, just 2-3 weeks after planting. Thus, growers get at least double what they start with. It’s no wonder that every fan of flowering plants is tempted to grow narcissus in their garden.
Published: June 22, 2020.
Narcissus - General Information
Narcissus is the botanical name of the genus of daffodils.
A majority of narcissi grow easily in Zones 4 to 8 that have a noticeable winter. Most types can bear the harsh winters of Zones 2 and 3 too, whereas several cultivars (especially those in the divisions Tazetta and Jonquilla) can do well in the warmer climates of Zone 9.
The flowering season is early spring. They are available till April depending upon the species.
Narcissi come in a range of heights i.e. 6 to 30 inches.
Colors and Shape
The most common colors of narcissi are yellow and white. However, they occur in other colors too including red, pink and orange. The characteristic shape of narcissi is a central cup surrounded by a circle of petals.
There are thousands of types of narcissus, including antiques or heirlooms that have been grown for generations, modern hybrids bred to be hardy and tall with several colors and shapes, and smaller species which are sometimes known as miniature or wild narcissi.
Gardeners who grow narcissi for competition classify the plants into 13 divisions which can be found in The American Daffodils Society. The most commonly grown among these are Trumpet and Large Cup Narcissi. Some of these are best for naturalizing, some are especially well-suited for the South and some feature spectacular double flowers while some have powerful fragrances.
Are Narcissi Toxic?
Narcissi do contain a toxic compound that may cause problems in digestion. They taste horrible due to the oxalic acid in them and therefore most animals, especially rodents, avoid them (that’s why they’re safe from deer and other animals). If a pet eats a narcissus bulb, the owner should immediately contact their vet.
Jonquils: These have round, dark green, rush-like leaves and bunches of small, yellow, fragrant flowers.
Rip van Winkle: This is a miniature double narcissus that is 6 to 8 inches in height and creates an amazing display in a grove when grown with several others of its type.
Daffodils: The modern, big-flowered daffodils are doubtlessly the most planted variety of narcissus today.
Petit Four: Petit Four is recommendable if growers’ planting site receives partial sunlight and partial shade. This variety has an amazing combination of white petals and a central double cup in apricot pink. It’s 16 inches in height.
Paper Whites: Paper whites are an early flowering variety of narcissus. They have white clustered flowers with an intoxicating fragrance.
Golden Ducat: This is a double narcissus with bright yellow petals. It flowers in mid- to late-season and is around 12 to 16 inches tall.
How to Plant Narcissus?
Growers should choose high-quality narcissus bulbs that haven’t been dried out. The bigger the bulbs, the better.
When to Plant
In colder regions, it’s best to plant narcissus in fall (autumn) after the first frost when the temperature of the soil is cooler but before the ground freezes.
In warmer regions, it’s best to plant after fall temperatures have become steady and nights are cool.
A rule of thumb is to plant bulbs 1 ½ to 5 times their own height. In general, the depth should be 4 to 8 inches. In areas receiving severe winter, growers should make sure their bulbs are covered by least 3 inches of soil.
Well-drained, moderately fertile soil is the best for narcissus. The soil should be moist, but not wet, during the growing season. It should remain relatively dry when the bulbs are dormant in summer. If the soil is heavier, narcissus should be ideally grown in raised beds.
Several popular species prefer neutral to acidic soils. However, some varieties prefer a little alkaline soil. It’s best to consult the supplier of the bulbs to know what is best for one’s particular narcissus variety.
Soil should be somewhat moist in fall after planting, in spring when growth is active (½ to 1-inch water per week) and after flowering is finished right until their leaves start turning yellow.
How to Plant
Narcissus can be grown in two ways depending on whether a grower just wants to add a riot of colors to their spring landscape or pick flowers in abundance. Regardless of how growers plant them, they should choose a spot that receives sun at least partially and is devoid of standing water because wet soil can cause bulbs to rot.
The ideal season to plant narcissus is from August to November. These fall-planted bulbs produce robust, easy-to-grow flowers in spring that do well in both sun and partial shade. Grower has to plant the narcissus bulb 4-6 inches (10-15 cm) deep with its pointed end up. There should be a gap of 3-4 inches (7-10 cm) between each two bulbs.
However, growers can also plant 10-20 blubs together. For this, they should just dig out a big circle of soil which should be 6-8 inches (20-25 cm) deep. Then they should mix in a bit of compost and bulb fertilizer, and then plant the bulbs at a depth which is 3 to 4 times the height of the bulb and as far from each other as their width. Once the bulbs go in their place, growers should water deeply and fill the hole with soil. They should add a few inches of well-rotted compost on top which would act as mulch. Inserting some type of stakes at the site is advisable so as to remember the site.
If growers want to grow narcissi exclusively for cutting, then too they can apply this same method. However, they should plant the bulbs in long rows.
If bloom quality and quantity are suffering, growers should take the clumps out and divide them just after the foliage dies back.
Growers should deadhead the plants once they flower. This will help next year’s blooming. They should not remove foliage, but should leave it for at least six weeks or even longer after the bloom. This foliage will also help next year’s bloom.
Certain varieties are to be excluded from deadheading. These include varieties like N. pseudonarcissus and certain other species. These are self-sow.
Growers should leave the seed heads on of these species until they open and seeds are dispersed. This takes by late May and June. Late summer is also the season of dividing overcrowded groups so as to achieve a plant balance in the garden.
How to Plant Narcissus in Pots?
Varieties to Choose
To grow narcissi in pots, growers should choose varieties that don’t grow too tall and don’t produce a big mass of leaves. Such varieties include ‘Tete a Tete’, ‘Pipit’, ‘Carlton’, ‘Jack Snipe’, ‘Ice Follies’ and ‘Hawera’.
Growers should choose containers that are at least 10 inches (25 cm) deep, but 12 inches (30 cm) are more desirable. Containers should be able to drain excess water quickly. So, their bottom should have drainage holes. To prevent the temporary problem caused by excess water, growers can spread a layer of clay granules or pot shards on the bottom.
Now, growers should fill the pot with peat-free potting compost up to 4 inches (10 cm) below the rim and place bulbs so that they almost touch the potting compost with the pointed end upwards.
Growers should now cover the bulbs with a compost layer and press down firmly.
Narcissi planted this way can be combined with other perennials or annuals, and should be watered.
Finally, growers should add the last soil layer and tamp lightly. These containers are placed outside. They should be watered in case of persistent dry weather.
It’s a good idea to put some kind of straw or reeds over the pots. A reason to plant narcissi in maneuverable pots to a frost-free (though not very warm) location is hard frost. The pots can also be wrapped in bubble wrap. These precautions are essential because unlike bulbs planted in the ground, potted bulbs are more exposed to cold, as it’s coming from all directions.
After all these efforts, in spring, growers can enjoy lovely colorful blossoms.
Growing Narcissus Indoors
The quickest and easiest variety to grow indoors is Paper-whites. They are amazing to look at and smell. They also make a wonderful Christmas display. Other varieties to grow indoors are Cragford (a sub-species of paper-white) and Avalanche; but Cragford takes time to bloom.
While growing narcissus indoors, growers should use loam-based compost, softened with some gravel. Since narcissus has large bulbs and intricate root structure, it needs a large and deep container. This time, the grower should place the bulb just below the soil surface.
Paper-white and Avalanche take 4 to 6 weeks for flowering while Cragford takes 8-10 weeks. For this entire period, growers should maintain moisture in the compost but not to the level of dripping wet. Support the growing plants with sticks to prevent them from flopping.
How to Grow Narcissus in Water (without Soil)?
Growers can grow paper-white narcissus even in water without soil. Growing paper-white narcissus in water is so easy that even beginners can start it by planting batches of them every 10 days from mid-October to mid-November to obtain wonderful displays from February to March.
Growers should choose big, firm, plump paper-white narcissus bulbs without any sign of damage or rot. Larger bulbs form larger flowers in larger quantities. Growers should plant them as soon as possible; but if they store them before planting, they should store the bulbs in a dry spot at room temperature out of direct sun.
Paper-white varieties that thrive in water include “Nazareth” (“Yael”), “Grand Soleil d‘Or” (“Soleil d‘Or”), “Chinese sacred lily”, “Bethlehem” (“Nony”), “Cragford”, “Israel” (“Omri”), “Ziva”, “Galilee” and “Jerusalem” (“Sheleg”).
Growers should choose an attractive shallow pot that should not have drainage holes. So, this container can be anything from a glass bowl, clay saucer or decorative vase, provided it’s 3-5 inch (9.5-12.5 cm) deep. Growers can also prefer a tall, clear vase that can support the slender stems. By choosing a clear container, growers can inspect the water level and plant's growth. It’s a good idea to label the container with the planting date, if the growers are planning to start successive batches.
Now growers should fill the container half full with non-porous planting materials such as marbles, colored stones, decorative gravel or pebbles.
Growers should place narcissus bulbs on the surface of the medium with the bulbs’ pointed ends up. They should crowd the bulbs so close that they should almost touch each other. Add adequate medium to the container so as to cover the lower half to 2/3rd of the bulbs to keep them well-anchored while rooting.
Now growers should slowly add water to the container till it’s just below the bottoms of the bulbs. It should not quite touch the bulbs because they may rot if they sit in water. Growers should check the water level every day and maintain it till the narcissi have done with blooming.
Growers should place the bulbs in a dark, cool room for 2 weeks to promote root growth. During the root growth, the bulbs should not be disturbed. At the end of the second week, growers should tug the tops of the bulbs gently to check root growth. If resistance is felt, that means that the bulbs have rooted. If not, it should be tested again after a week.
When bulbs feel rooted, the containers should be moved to a cool, but bright spot, out of direct sun. The temperature should be 55°-60°F. Nighttime temperature should be a bit lower so as to promote compact growth and discourage long-limbed plants.
When the stems grow tall, growers should encircle the narcissi with plant stakes and secure them with twine to prevent them from flopping.
When the plants are done with blooming, growers should discard the plants because they have spent all their energy during forcing and have a less chance to bloom again.
Growers should now wash and disinfect the container and potting medium so that they can use them again next year.
All narcissus bulbs are happy when growers minimize the number of leaves they cut while picking the flowers. They should also leave the browning foliage on bulbs till every leaf is completely brown, and not before that. This is because after flowering, leaves photosynthesize and the food they form is stored in the bulb for next year’s flowering season. In such a condition, if growers cut leaves halfway through the process, they have a less chance to have flowers next year.
If the soil is poor, it’s a good idea to give potash feed in early spring to all spring-flowering bulbs. This helps formation of roots and bulbs and induces them to stick around and flower year after year.
Ideally, growers should not lift the bulbs. They should leave them deeply planted with a generous mulch of mushroom compost for overwintering.
Growers should harvest the narcissus blooms in the spring, but when they are not fully open. If growers harvest when buds are fully colored, but still a little sleepy (this is called the “gooseneck” stage), flowers will remain fresh in vases at least for a week.
Growers should wear gloves while picking narcissus, because a slimy sap oozes out from the stems that can irritate skin.
The slimy sap can even considerably reduce the vase life of other flowers if other flowers are combined with cut narcissus. To prevent this situation, growers will have to “condition” the narcissi first. This can be done by first placing the freshly cut stems into cool water for 2-3 hours on their own. During this period, the ends of the stems will form a node and the sap (which prevents other flowers from absorbing water) will stop flowing. Now, the narcissus stems should not be cut again while adding them to arrangements to prevent the sap from oozing out again.
Of course, growers can even form arrangements solely of narcissi, of only one variety or several, and the sap won’t cause a problem.
Protecting from Pests
As such, narcissi being highly unpalatable are naturally protected from rodent and other pests, and animals like deer. However, if one’s plants are bothered, they should consider adding sharp shards of shells or a pelleted rodent deterrent in and around each planting hole.
What to Do With the Dormant Bulbs?
Many growers wonder if they should dig out the dormant narcissus bulbs and store them or should leave them in the ground.
In most cases, narcissus bulbs are so hardy that they can be left in the ground for years.
However, there are a few situations when growers have to dig them out and store them. These are:
- Growers live an extremely cold climate and are worried that the bulbs won’t overwinter in the ground
- Growers live in a very warm climate. In that case, they should chill the bulbs in the refrigerator
- Bulbs have become too crowded and must be divided
- Growers want to plant the bulbs at a different spot the following year
- If the planting spot is going to be wet during warm summer months, growers should remove bulbs and store them to avoid rot
Can One Plant Narcissus in Spring?
Ideally, growers should plant spring-flowering bulbs in fall. That way, the plant gets entire winter to acclimate and grow roots prior to blooming in spring. However, some growers have successfully planted, rather transplanted, potted bulbs into their spring gardens.
However, these plants should have healthy green leaves and buds, but no blooms.
When Should One Transplant Narcissus?
Whether one wants to transplant narcissus to reduce overcrowding or just because one wants to move it to a new spot, one should do so after they go dormant.
After the blooms fade, one should wait till the leaves wilt, yellow and die down. Then they should dig the bulbs out. The approximate time for this is six weeks. The bulbs store energy and become ready for the next season’s bloom, during this period. But one should replant the bulbs in their new location immediately.
Tips for Naturalizing Narcissus
“Naturalize” is a term that is sometimes used interchangeably with “perennialize”. However, there is a subtle difference between the two processes. Some bulbs naturalize which means that they will thrive and spread around the garden, generating natural-looking groups (drifts). On the other hand, some bulbs perennialize, i.e. they will reliably bloom year after year, growing in the clump size over time, but won’t necessarily move further out into the landscape.
Some experts offer the following tips for the naturalization of narcissus.
- Choose a spot with good sunlight and drainage
- Choose narcissus varieties that multiply quickly
- Plant groupings (drifts) of the same types and colors
- Toss a few bulbs about and plant them where they land
- Pick cultivars that bloom at different times
- Speed up the process with a drill attachment or specialized bulb planting tool
Long Story Short: Growing Narcissus is a truly rewarding process, because this unfussy perennial requires relatively low efforts but returns an unmatched beauty to the growers’ garden with its variety of colors and shapes. Growers should take benefit of this and add to their garden’s magnificence.