Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A Host Of Daffodils

Narcissus is one of the world's favorite spring flowers. Its name is associated with the mythological character, Narcissus, whose tale is told by Ovid in Metamorphoses. Renowned for his beauty, Narcissus stirred desire in a nymph, Echo. He spurned her advances. Angered, she cried for revenge. Nemesis heard her plea and granted her wish. While looking into a pool of water, Narcissus was spellbound by his own reflection and pined away, dying of unrequited love for himself.

But when they sought his body, they found nothing,
Only a flower with a yellow center
Surrounded with white petals.

Ovid's was not the only tale about Narcissus. The names and circumstances differed, but the themes were similar.

Interestingly, the Greek word, narke, is the root of narcotic. It is a fact that narcissus are toxic to mammals. I mention this because caution must be taken to prevent domestic pets and children from ingesting any part of the plant. But it is also notable how stories are sometimes concocted to explain simple facts.

Narcissus are often called daffodils and sometimes jonquils. Daffodil is simply a common name for narcissus, and it is okay to use the names interchangeably. Jonquil, however, refers to a particular group of daffodils, as you will learn below.

Daffodils have inspired many other artists and poets. Remember these lines from Wordsworth?

I wander'd lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

The genus, Narcissus, is native to Europe, the Mediterranean and into western Asia. Narcissus is in the Amaryllis family. The plants are perennials and grown from bulbs. They thrive in full sun to partial shade in well-drained soil, and are generally hardy in USDA climate zones 3 through 9. Some cultivars are more heat tolerant; some are not as cold hardy as others. Recommended pH is 6.1 to 7.5.

To keep them organized, The American Daffodil Society has divided narcissus into 13 Divisions based upon shape, habit, and size. But to better understand these divisions, it's helpful to know something about daffodil flower parts. The cup is the trumpet shaped inner part of the flower. The perianth consists of the six "petals" around the cup. The stamen is the male part of the flower that produces and up the pollen. The pistil is the female part of the flower which receives the pollen and produces seeds.

Division 1: Trumpet Daffodils. The trumpet is at least as long as the petals. Trumpets produce one flower per stem. Use them in perennial borders, bulb gardens, mass plantings and for naturalizing.

Division 2: Large-Cupped Daffodils. The cup is at least 1/3 the length of the petals, but not longer than the petals. These produce one flower per stem. These are great for bulb gardens, perennial borders, mass plantings and for naturalizing.

Division 3: Small-Cupped Daffodils. The cup is less than 1/3 the length of the petals. These produce one flower per stem. Small-cupped daffodils are fine for naturalizing, in mass plantings, bulb gardens and perennial borders.

Division 4: Double Daffodils. These have more than 6 petals. The cup and multiple petals are clustered in the center. These may produce more than one flower per stem. Double daffodils are excellent for mass plantings, bulb gardens, perennial borders and for naturalizing.

Division 5: Triandrus Daffodils. The flowers tend to hang downward, bell-like. Triandrus means that the flower has three stamens. These usually have two or more flowers per stem. Triandrus daffodils are native to western Europe and are cold hardy into zone 4. Use them in container gardens, bulb gardens, rock gardens, mass plantings, perennial borders and for naturalizing.

Division 6: Cyclamineus Daffodils. The perianth appears to be blown backward by the wind. These produce one flower per stem. Cyclamineus daffodils are native to the Pyrenees and are cold-hardy into zone 4. They are excellent for bulb gardens, rock gardens, container gardens, mass plantings, perennial borders and for naturalizing.

Division 7: Jonquilla Daffodils. These daffodils have small flowers with flat petals. These usually produce one to three blooms per stem. They are very fragrant. The foliage is narrow like that of rushes. Jonquils are native to the Iberian Peninsula and are cold-hardy into zone 4. You'll love them in container gardens, rock gardens, mass plantings, bulb gardens, perennial borders and for naturalizing.

Division 8: Tazetta Daffodils. These generally have clusters of 3 or more fragrant flowers per stem. The stem and foliage are broad. Tazettas are native from the Mediterranean into Asia and are cold-hardy into zone 8. They are perfect for indoor forcing, container gardens and for planting outdoors in the South.

Division 9: Poeticus Daffodils. These fragrant daffodils have a very white perianth. The cup is small, crinkled and flat, often with a green center, surrounded by yellow and a red rim. These usually produce one flower per stem. Poeticus daffodils are native to south and central Europe, and are cold-hardy into zone 4. Use them in container gardens, rock gardens, mass plantings, perennial borders, bulb gardens and for naturalizing.

Division 10: Bulbocodium Daffodils. These daffodils have very small petals and a comparatively large cup, giving them the appearance of an angel wearing an old-fashioned hoop skirt. They are native to the eastern Mediterranean region, and are cold-hardy into zone 6. They are great for rock gardens, perennial borders, container gardens, bulb borders and for naturalizing.

Division 11: Split-Cupped Daffodils. These beauties display a cup that is split for more than half its length. The cup is often spread against the perianth. Use them in bulb gardens, mass plantings, naturalizing and perennial borders.

Division 12: Miscellaneous Daffodils. Daffodils in this class are those that don't fit anywhere else. Many of them are hybrids with characteristics of more than one division.

Division 13: Species, Wild Variants, and Wild Hybrids. These are natural species that haven't been tinkered with.

Daffodils are often advertised as "DNI", "DNII", or "DNIII." "DN" means "double-nose" and refers to the fact that multiple bulbs of various sizes are attached at the basal plate. "DNI" bulbs are the largest, and up to three flowers may grow from that bulb the first year. "DNII" bulbs are large and two flowers may grow from that bulb the first year. "DNIII" bulbs are the smallest and least expensive. Fewest flowers will grow from DNIII bulbs the first year.  Even the smallest bulbs will mature to produce a host of flowers.  "DN" does not refer to the actual measurement around the circumference of the bulb. Some narcissus bulbs are advertised as "Topsize". This simply means that those bulbs are among the largest available for that particular variety. However the bulbs are marketed, keep in mind that the largest bulbs cost more but will produce more flowers and be most satisfying.

Before planting, take a sample of your garden soil to your local Cooperative Extension Service office. They often provide collection bags. With each soil sample, indicate the type of bulb you intend to grow in it. For the most basic recommendations, you may be charged a nominal fee. For more information such as micro-nutrient and organic content you may be charged more. Follow the recommendations.

Bulb planting begins in September or October, depending upon your area. Your Cooperative Extension office can advise you. Prepare the planting bed by cultivating at least 6" deep, removing all traces of weeds. Compacted soil should be cultivated to 12" deep. Poorly drained sites can be improved by raising the height of the planting beds. Common soil amendments include sulphur for lowering pH, limestone for raising pH, sand for helping drainage, clay for slowing drainage, gypsum for breaking up caking clay and compost for enriching the soil. Bone meal is especially good for bulbs. Which you should use depends upon your particular circumstance. Your local Cooperative Extension Service should be helpful.

Your soil sample report from your local Cooperative Extension Service will include fertilizer recommendations based upon the results of the test. Following its instruction should be a good bet. A fine all-around practice for Spring-flowering bulbs is to mix 5 tablespoons of 10-10-10 fertilizer and 2 cups of bone meal per ten square feet area of bulb garden. Repeat the application when shoots appear, but be careful that fertilizer does not come into direct contact with plant tissue. Apply 2 tablespoons of 10-10-10 fertilizer per ten square feet of garden area every two weeks until flower buds appear.

The proper depth may differ. But as a rule of thumb, bulbs should be planted three times as deep as the bulbs are wide. For example, if the bulb is 2" wide, plant it 6" deep. That means the bottom of the hole should be 6" deep. Plant daffodils about 6" apart. Cover the bulbs with soil and add a top-dressing of mulch about 2" deep to suppress weeds. Unless snow or rain fall is inadequate, irrigation should not be necessary.

For more information on bulbs, read our article Marshall's Answers To FAQs On Bulbs.

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