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Daffodil Spreading: How to Create a Beautiful Spring Display

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The daffodil is one of the most satisfying bulbs to grow.  Once established, daffodils are the least fussy plants, and their spread is slow.

Daffodils thrive in the wild for up to 50 years of continuous flowering. They spread asexually and by seed, but seeds can take up to seven years to produce blooms. Daffodils grow bulblets at the base of their stems and adjacent to their bulbs. From these, more daffodils can be grown. 

Are Daffodils Invasive?

Daffodils (Narcissus genus) will spread gradually over time to create a clump, but they won’t do so at a rate that causes any real concern. Their main means of expansion is the formation of new bulbs underground.

Because of this, they grow in clumps that aren’t invasive. Remove part of the cluster to thin them out if they get too crowded. As mentioned above, daffodil seeds are slow germinators.

If you’re concerned that they may spread, cull the flowers at the end of the season when they’re finished blooming and before they form a seed pod.

Daffodil Bulb Species

So many species and cultivars required groups, clubs, competitions, and displays. The American Daffodil Society and Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) classify daffodils into 13 divisions. Perianth Colors (petals) and Corona Colors are the other color codes (cup). 

Iowa’s Dr. Throckmorton invented color coding, which RHS added to the division classification system in 1975. With this knowledge, you can enter your garden’s best daffodils in local shows.

The Narcissus genus has 13 divisions or shows or cultivar groups. 

  • Division I – Trumpet Daffodils: One flower to a stem; trumpet (corona) as long as, or longer than the petals (perianth segments).
  • Division II – Large-cupped Daffodils: One flower to a stem; corona more than one-third, but less than equal to the length of the perianth segments.
  • Division III – Small-cupped Daffodils: One flower to a stem; corona not more than one-third the length of the perianth segments.
  • Division IV – Double Daffodils: One or more flowers to a stem, doubling the perianth segments, the corona, or both.
  • Division V – Triandrus Daffodils: Usually two or more pendant flowers to a stem; perianth segments reflexed.
  • Division VI – Cyclamineus Daffodils: One flower to a stem; perianth segments significantly reflexed; flower at an acute angle to the stem, with a very short neck
  • Division VII – Jonquilla Daffodils: Sometimes erroneously used as a synonym for the Narcissus genus. One to five (and sometimes eight) flowers to a stem; perianth segments spreading or reflexed; corona cup-shaped, funnel-shaped or flared, usually wider than long; flowers usually fragrant.
  • Division VIII – Tazetta Daffodils: Has three to twenty flowers to a stout stem; perianth segments spreading, not reflexed; flowers usually fragrant.
  • Division IX – Poeticus Daffodils: Perianth segments pure white; corona very short or disc-shaped.
  • Division X – Bulbocodium hybrids: usually one flower to a stem; perianth segments insignificant compared with the dominant corona
  • Division XI – Split Corona Daffodils: Consists of two sub-divisions. Split-corona daffodils with the corona segments opposite the perianth segments
  • Division XII – Miscellaneous Daffodils: Daffodils that don’t fall into the previous categories. Most are inter-division hybrids.
  • Division XIII – Species, Wild Variants and Wild Hybrids: Daffodils found in nature.

An additional classification is miniature daffodils with cute names like Itsy Bitsy Splitsy. For a more comprehensive compendium of daffodil classifications, check out the  American Daffodil Society’s site and DaffLibrary.

Propagating Daffodil Bulbs

Daffodils can be reproduced both sexually or by asexual reproduction. Most sexual reproduction occurs in the Daffodil Flower. Pollen grains move from the anther to the stigma during this process. 

Seed pods develop after pollinators have fertilized the flower. Numerous tiny, jet-black seeds are contained within each seed pod. 

Daffodils can spread vegetatively from bulb to bulb via bulbils. In contrast to the plant’s circular base, called a bulb, the bulbil is a notched growth at the leaf-stem juncture.

How Daffodils Spread

Daffodils can spread sexually (through seeds) or vegetatively (from daffodil bulbs); either way will result in healthy plants, though some mutations may be lost in sexual propagation.

You only need a bed of moist, organic soil to grow healthy daffodils from seeds. Leave it in the light for two to four weeks to germinate. Germination rates are generally in the 80 to 90% range.

You can expect one hundred percent success with minimal effort when you plant daffodils from a healthy bulb. Putting the bulb in good soil is all needed for growing daffodils.

Parent daffodil plants produce offspring each year as bulblets (baby bulbs). These new, smaller daffodil bulbs will allow you to divide, increase your collection for borders, and spread daffodils near water features.

Spreading daffodils requires active gardener participation in physically planting daffodils. If gardeners unfamiliar with the Narcissus genus ask you, “Do daffodils spread?” you can answer, “Yes, when I spread them. Planted daffodils spread slowly and controllably.”

How fast do Daffodils Spread?

We can propagate the daffodils in two ways: by removing bulbs or taking cuttings from the bulbil notches.

It’s not true that daffodils may be grown from cuttings. As an alternative, you might use daffodil bulbs to create fine cuts. 

Only the bulbils, or underground stems, of daffodils, can be used to grow new plants. These bulbs can be used to create new plants from cuttings or sections. 

Daffodil bulbs can be propagated through either division or bulb cuttings. “sectioning” and “partial groove cutting” refers to the first method.

Daffodil bulbs are easily divided into smaller parts or cuttings that can be grown independently. 

Scoring The Daffodil Bulbs

To score a daffodil bulb, make three V-shaped slashes onto its top. Without a solid partition, these three crosscuts will divide the bulb into six to nine individual “pies.” The cut at an angle will discourage top development and encourage bulb division at the edges.

Within 6-8 months, the scored bulbs can multiply into twenty new bulbs. The new bulbs will take three years to reach maturity.

Sectioning the Daffodil bulbs

It’s exactly as easy as it sounds to divide things into sections. Separately cultivate six to eight of the mature bulb’s “pie” parts. To avoid infection, apply a contact fungicide to the cut or sectioned area. 

The cutting needs to be kept in a warm, humid environment. To keep the sprouting process going smoothly, it is important to keep the soil moist. 

In around 6-8 weeks, it will start to sprout. For the time being, you have prevented any bacterial or fungal infections from spreading.

A plant’s shoot grows once its roots have matured. There will be a new bulbil structure formed from each thriving piece. With proper care and nurturing, it will grow into a new bulb.

Let’s Plant Daffodils

Prepare a bed rich in organic matter by adding about 4 inches (10 cm) of compost into the soil. The microorganisms in compost boost soil drainage and help manage essential nutrient availability and pH levels.

There are two types of bulbs; epigeal and hypogeal, where epi infers upper, and hypo infers under. Genus Narcissus bulbs are hypogeal and develop below the soil line.

In contrast, once epigeal bulbs are planted, they prioritize accessing phototrophic food, sending shoots out to harvest the sun’s energy above the soil level.

The daffodil stores its food in the bulb and, once planted, use that energy to access nutrients and water by sending out roots. The daffodil bulb also needs a certain amount of chill hours to trigger foliage growth (like some fruit trees).

Chill hours are the number of hours below 45 °F (7 °C) a plant needs to trigger blooms.

Plant daffodils in autumn (October to November), allowing the plants to grow a substantial root system before the ground freezes. Traditional daffodil planting involves making a hole, dropping in the bulb, and filling it in. 

The daffodils will return your initial efforts if you plan and prepare a loamy, humus-rich bed. Phototropic daffodil blossoms require full light but will bloom in some shade.

Excessive shade will produce foliage without any blooms. It’s as if the plants know that the environment is unsuitable for raising little daffodils.

In addition to light, your daffodils will need some soil depth. If planted too deep or too shallow, the bulb may not bloom. As a guideline, soil coverage should be twice as deep as the bulb’s height. 

Planting bulbs 2 to 3 inches apart gives an initial eye-catching clump, but they will be too compact and may be overwhelmed in a few years. The Standard is 4 to 6 inches. As with all bulb planting, clearly label where each cultivar is planted. 

An additional schematic sketch also helps, especially if wind, water or animals have moved your tags in the past. Don’t forget to note blossoming periods as daffodils bloom at different times. 

To enjoy daffodils longer, put a couple of each type in bulk plantings or as accents amid perennials. An indication that the flowering season is drawing to a close is when the leaves droop.

It may be tempting to trim daffodils down, but it’s not advised. In autumn, the remaining leaves continue to feed the roots via photosynthesis.

Plan on having early annuals or perennials in flower around fall to distract from the daffodil leaves you’ll prune once they’ve turned brown. 

The practice of folding or braiding daffodil leaves impedes photosynthesis, leaving the plant unable to nourish the bulbs for spring blooms.

In Closing

Daffodils are non-invasive and take several years to spread. Natural seed propagation can take years, so it’s highly unlikely that one spring, you will wake up to yellow flowers everywhere. 

Daffodils love full sun but can manage partial shade and make a great display under deciduous trees.