GETTING THE BEST FROM YOUR DAFFODIL BULBS
The following notes are aimed at the home gardener. More technical and detailed information is available from the NDSNZ for those interested in growing daffodils competitively. For this information, contact a Daffodil Club in your region for Society Publications.
New Zealanders are fortunate that daffodils can be grown successfully in almost all of the country. The only exception is the Far North where special steps need to be taken. Even there, though, daffodils can be grown – there is, for example, a very successful commercial nursery at Kerikeri which produces good flowers. The special steps include introducing loamy soil to enhance the naturally sandy soil, to water frequently, and to plant in cool, shady spots.
Elsewhere in New Zealand there is a naturally good environment for bulbs – of course this can be enhanced by good gardening practice which is outlined below.
We would encourage people to attend their local daffodil show where many different varieties of daffodils will be displayed. This will give you the chance to select flowers which appeal to you. You will find that daffodil growers are only too pleased to share their expertise with you, so don’t hesitate to ask! They will also be able to provide advice on where to purchase good bulbs. On this web site, under Bulb Sources, is a list of recommended suppliers of specialist bulbs. Most of those listed welcome visitors to their nurseries so that is another way of deciding what to buy. Catalogues are usually available in August – September and orders should be placed before February. Most suppliers fill their orders in February.
Plant the bulbs when the soil has cooled – many local newspapers give details of soil temperatures on the weather page – wait until the temperature drops to 15 – 17 degrees centigrade before planting. In most parts of New Zealand this coincides with Easter – what a good time to plant the harbingers of Spring!
Choose a well drained, sunny spot. Dig deeply – daffodil roots require depth to feed adequately. A minimum of eighteen inches is recommended. Top growers take soil tests and fertilise accordingly. However for home gardeners adding a standard bulb fertilizer is adequate. Check the formulation of these mixes – the best are high on potash and low on nitrogen. Too much of the latter can result in fungus attacks. A side dressing of sulphate of potash is recommended twice during the growing season – June and October are the appropriate months. Organic gardeners may wish to use wood ash as an alternative. Lack of feeding is the most frequent explanation for daffodils failing to flower.
Plant the bulbs so that their top is at least two times as deep as the bulb is high (top of a 6cm bulbs is twelve centimetres deep). Plant bulbs deeper in light soils than in heavy soils. Space the bulbs about ten centimetres apart or further if you intend to leave them in the ground for longer than four years.
Another key factor in growing daffodils is water. Of course the best form of watering is rain! This pulls much needed oxygen from the atmosphere into the soil. Most daffodil growers believe that an average of one inch of rain per week during the growing season is the ideal. If this does not occur naturally then it is recommended that water be supplied via overhead sprinklers. Keep the watering going for two-three weeks after flowering. The natural food for the daffodil is its foliage – healthy strong foliage equals good bulb and good flowers in subsequent years. NEVER cut the foliage off (or even tie it in knots) – wait for it to die down naturally. Cutting off foliage is the second major reason for reduced flower numbers. If you spray other crops (eg roses, tomatoes) with a fungicide, do so for your daffodils as well. They will appreciate this treatment and will respond with lovely flowers next season.
Ideally daffodils should be lifted every three to four years. After this period of time they tend to clump up through vegetative reproduction and flowering quantity is reduced. As noted above if you intend to leave them in the ground for a lengthy period of time give them plenty of room, and frequent feeding. Some of the best known naturalized daffodil plantings (eg Middle Run in the Wairarapa) are grazed in the off season so receive natural fertilization.
If you do lift your bulbs clean them off carefully and store in a cool, airy space. Onion sacks are recommended for storage, not too many bulbs to a bag – like you they need to breathe and not sweat.
Growing Bulbs in Containers
We recommend that you join a local daffodil club and join the NDSNZ. You will find that daff people are very friendly and good at socializing! And perhaps you may even bring a flower or two to exhibit at their shows – take care though, Yellow Fever is very contagious!
Dr. Peter Ramsay