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Narcissus: planting and care, varieties, growing

“He that has two cakes of bread,
let him sell one of them for some flower of the Narcissus,
for bread is the food of the body,
but Narcissus is the food of the soul.”

Flowers of daffodilsNarcissus (lat. Narcissus), or daffodil, is the genus of monocotyledonous plants in the family Amaryllidaceae (amaryllis), one of the earliest spring flowers. In the wild there are about sixty species of narcissus, mainly growing in the south of Europe, in the Mediterranean and in Asia. In cultivation, however, gardeners use 25 species and a large number of hybrid forms that are united under the name “hybrid narcissus”. It has long been believed that narcissus possesses various amazing properties and qualities. In the East narcissus is called “nargis” and often compared with the beautiful eyes of a lover.

For the ancient Greeks the narcissus flowers were the embodiment of death since narcissi were used as the decoration of the deathbed, and in Europe during the Renaissance narcissus, on the contrary, became a symbol of love and marriage. In Italy even today a gift of daffodil bouquet is a declaration of love.

Daffodils have been used in perfumery and medicine from time immemorial: the name of the flower (in Greek “narkao” means “intoxicating, narcotic”) refers to the heady fragrance of narcissus that causes migraine, the toxic properties of its bulbs, and narcotic effects of narcissus oil. Containing Narciclasine alkaloid narcissus bulbs make flowers invulnerable to rodents.

The narcissus plant was the height of the fashion at the end of the 19th century, and since then the flower and its fragrance have been very popular. Nowadays narcissi are commercially grown in the East for its essential oil. In China narcissi are used as New Year decorations, and in England it has become even more popular than rose, the queen of flowers. Well, and, of course, who among us did not smell, read or watch “Black Narcissus”?

The myth about narcissus

There are many legends and stories about narcissus, but the most famous Greek myth tells of a beautiful but heartless young man named Narcissus, who did not love back the mountain nymph Echo. In despair, the nymph appealed to the gods, and Aphrodite punished Narcissus for disdainfulness making him fall in love with his own reflection in the pond. He could not stop admiring his own reflection and died, but the gods felt sorry for him, and a beautiful flower named in his honor grew on the place of his death. The name “narcissus” has become a common noun since then, and there is even the psychological term “narcissism” meaning a fixation with oneself, self-admiration.

Description of narcissus flower

Yellow narcissusNarcissus has dense bulbs and 2-4 strap-shaped leaves of different widths. Narcissus leaves are basal, linear, grow earlier than the flower spike. The stems are leafless, flattened or round, tunicated, the flower is at the top of the stem. Bulbs of different daffodil species have different shapes: pointed, oval, round, ovoid. The bulbs of some species form the nest: at the bottom of the bulb there are several bulbs wrapped in colored scales. New roots of bulbs appear every year after the death of the old ones, the lifespan of the roots is up to ten months. Flowers, erect or pendant, can be solitary or form a cluster of flowers (umbel) bearing from two to eight blooms. The petal-like perianth has the shape of a tubular funnel, which at the top turns into a horizontal bend, paracorolla is bell-shaped, tubular or cup-shaped, formed by perianth segments that usually differ in shade. Flower colors are white or yellow, sometimes the flowers can be bicolored. The diameter is from 0.8 to 4 inches. The fruit is a seed capsule consisting of three chambers. The plants are generally low, 4-20 inches high. They are suitable for growing in the garden, and as pot plants. Daffodils bloom in April-May.

Species, classes and varieties of daffodils

Registration of varieties of daffodils is carried out by the Royal Horticultural Society that united all garden forms of narcissus into Narcissus hybridus consisting of 13 groups, twelve of which include garden narcissi, and the thirteenth group includes wild species and forms of daffodils. Here is a brief description of garden daffodils:

Trumpet daffodilsTrumpet daffodils. On the stem of the narcissus from this group there is one large flower. A tube and segments of the perianth are of the same length, sometimes the tube is slightly longer. Color of flowers is yellow or white, sometimes the flower is bicolored. The bulb diameter is 2 inches or more, varieties of this group are easily propagated. The variety Gin and Lime has a lemon perianth and lemon crown that gradually turns white with a green spot.

Large-cupped daffodilsLarge-cupped daffodils. The flower is solitary, the crown is smooth or wavy, being only a third of the length of the tepals. The flower colors vary, sometimes the crown is decorated with a bright trim. The length of the stalk, the term and duration of flowering are also different. The bulb of large-cupped daffodils is smaller than of trumpet ones. The variety Jeanine has a white perianth and a bright pink crown.

Small-cuppedSmall-cupped. The flower is solitary. The crown is one-third longer than the tepals. The color is usually cream-white, the flowering is abundant, the fragrance is gentle, the flowers are mid-sized. The variety Sabine Hay is amazingly beautiful: a small flower has an orange perianth, the crown is bright red. It is late-flowering.

DoubleDouble. It is a very beautiful group. There are varieties with solitary flowers, and there are varieties with several blooms on the stalk. Crown of the flower and the flower itself are double. Flower color, shape and size vary, since the selection of varieties in this group is based on their doubleness. The variety Tahiti was in a private collection and become known not so long ago. The size of the flower is 3-4 inches, the segments of perianth are bright yellow, in the center they are mixed with the ridges of red-orange crown, it gradually turns pale in full sun.

TriandrusTriandrus. It is low-growing daffodils (up to 10 inches) with two or three blooms on peduncles with a small crown and slightly bent tepals. The variety Ice Wings is a bright daffodil with white tepals and a very large crown. It is incredibly beautiful and has a long-lasting flowering.

CyclamineusCyclamineus. They are the result of crossing a cyclamen-flowered daffodil with cultivated species. As a rule, this is a solitary narcissus resembling cyclamen: its petals are folded back. The crown is long and thin, sometimes it is longer than petals. Flowering is very early. The variety Сotinga has snow-white petals, a pink-apricot crown, and an early-middle flowering.

JonquillaJonquilla. It is a product of breeding. It has a late-season flowering. The leaves are dark green, there are several blooms on the peduncle, the cup-shaped crown is no more than two-third longer than the perianth. They can grow on one spot without being transplanted for 5-7 years. The variety Suzy is a narcissus with a red-orange crown and a yellow-gold perianth. It has a mid-season flowering.

Tazetta, Bunch-floweredTazetta, Bunch-flowered. It is winter-hardy daffodils, on the peduncle there are from two to twenty very fragrant blooms, collected in a truss. The crown is small, the segments of perianth are round, the leaves are dark green. The variety Hugh Town is a yellow daffodil with an orange crown of a very beautiful shape.

PoeticusPoeticus. It is a white daffodil, on the peduncle there is one flower, the crown is small (no more than a third of the length of the perianth), bright. The perianth is milky white in color. It is cold-resistant, shade-tolerant. The bulb is small. The term of flowering, size and shape depend on the variety. The variety Actaea is a perfect narcissus with a yellow crown with a red rim and a green spot.

Bulbocodium HybridsBulbocodium Hybrids. They are small bell-shaped daffodils. Right now Australian breeders are creating new varieties. There are specimens of white color.

Split-CoronaSplit-Corona. A fringed crown of these daffodils seems to be torn, the petals are also trimmed. This group is divided into two subgroups:

Split-corona: the perianth and segments of the crown are located opposite each other;

Papillon: the structure of the flower resembles a butterfly.

The variety Palmares has white-pink flowers with a slightly compressed and cut crown. It has a mid-season flowering, prefers bright sun.

Others. This group is comprised of narcissi that do not fit in any of other groups.

All species. This group includes species narcissi and their hybrids. The variety Odorus Plenus has beautiful double flowers with a pleasant fragrance. The flowering is mid-late season.

We should draw your attention to such a phenomenon as a pink narcissus: in 1921 Mrs R. O. Backhause, a daffodil variety with a pink crown, was developed. It became the ancestor of many varieties that belong to different classes (tubular, jonquilla, double, cyclamineus, etc.), but they are still called pink. The variety Foundling is a cyclamen-flowered narcissus with white petals and a bright pink crown, the winner of many international awards.

Growing of daffodils in the garden

How to grow daffodils

In the garden daffodils emerge early, they are among the first spring flowers, along with hyacinths, crocuses and tulips. It is a minimal care flower, but for lazy gardeners it is better not to deal with it since only a responsible florist can grow a daffodil as it should be. It is very important to choose a suitable planting spot for daffodils: it should be with full sun, water-permeable, the most favorable soil is a neutral loam fertilized with compost or humus, but not with manure. If the soil is excessively alkaline, you should add dolomite flour at a rate of 7 oz per 11 square feet, and high acidity is reduced by wood ash at a rate of 1 glass per 11 ft². Do not plant daffodils on the site where tulips, lilies or other bulbs, perennial asters, phloxes and chrysanthemums have been recently grown. But they will surely thrive on the sites where cereals, beans, nightshade, peonies and cucumbers were grown.

Bulbs of narcissus

When the weather is warm, the bulbs of narcissus are planted in the ground. In spring plant nurseries offers a discount on old stock and there is a good chance for you to buy the bulbs of rare varieties at a low price. Just be careful: do not buy soft or weakened bulbs that may not sprout at all, but if despite your concern the plant does grow, try to pay more attention to it. The best time to buy daffodil bulbs is three months after flowering. It is undesirable to buy the bulbs:

  • in spring;
  • those that were dug out with stems, flowers and roots during flowering or immediately after it;
  • if there is only one large bulb, and the rest are small;
  • that have already sprouted.
Growing of daffodils in the garden

Before planting the bulbs of daffodils should be examined with removing too soft, sick or damaged, with the affected bottom. Healthy bulbs are disinfected in a 3% fungicide solution or a 1% solution of manganese for half an hour.

Bulbs of daffodils

Planting of daffodils

When to plant daffodils

Planting of narcissus is carried out regarding the weather conditions in your area. Usually, daffodils like all bulbous plants are planted in autumn. In cold climate zone the best time for planting of daffodils is September, since daffodils need 3-4 weeks for rooting. You can plant daffodils in early spring, and even in winter, but there is one condition: before planting the bulbs in the ground, you should keep them in the refrigerator for two months, otherwise daffodils will not be able to take root well and will not bloom. The bulbs stored in the refrigerator can be planted in the middle or at the end of April, if snow has melted by then. Spring daffodils are best rooted at a temperature of 41-45 °F.

Planting bulbs of daffodils

Planting of daffodils in spring

In the early spring, before planting of daffodils, it is necessary to dig up the soil in advance approximately at the depth of the shovel bayonet. During digging up, add sand, humus and nitrophosphate to the soil (2 oz per 11 ft²). It is not the problem if for some reason you did not manage to prepare the soil in advance, but instead your soil should have the right composition. When there is the time to plant the bulbs, make shallow holes in the ground (bury a bulb to a depth of its three diameters), add a handful of sand and two tablespoons of ash, place a bulb in the hole, fill a half of the planting hole with the soil mixed with compost, water and fill it completely with soil, and compact it. The distance between the bulbs depends on whether you are going to plant out the daffodils in a year or leave them to grow on this place for five years. If you plan to plant them out, then the distance between the plants should be 2.7-4 inches, but if they grow on this place for five years, then plant them 6-8 inches apart. After planting it is advisable to mulch the soil on the site. For this purpose use sawdust of solid wood, nutshells, mown grass or chopped straw. Not only does mulching give aesthetic pleasure, but it also keeps the weeds under control and retains moisture in the soil. If you mulch the site with daffodils, there will be no need to loosen the soil every time after watering.

Planting of daffodils in autumn

To plant daffodils in autumn you should prepare the planting site in summer: the soil is dug up to the depth of spade bayonet, fertilized with compost or peat (8.8-11 pounds/ 11 ft²), and add 2 tablespoons of superphosphate and 1 tablespoon of a fertilizer for flowering plants. Heavy soil is “diluted” with the addition of sand and humus (half a bucket per 11 ft²). After that, the site is again dug up to a depth of 4-6 inches and left until the autumn planting of daffodils.

Planting and caring for daffodils in autumn are based on the same principles as in spring. But an experienced florist will not advise you to transplant daffodils in spring, especially if it can be done in autumn, since autumn is the best time for planting and transplanting of these flowers. When a four or five year old daffodil has finished blooming, and it has grown too much, it means it's time to dig it out, separate the babies from the bulb and plant them out. This is the simplest and most reliable way of vegetative propagation of daffodils.

Care of daffodils

How to take care of daffodils in the garden

So, last autumn you prepared the soil on the right planting site and planted daffodils. And in early spring your flowers started to grow. Once you saw the shoots, prepare the first dressing with mineral fertilizer at a rate of 1 oz / 11 ft². The second dressing (0.7 oz per 11 ft²) should be held in late May during the budding period. If you want the flowering of daffodils to be long-lasting and plentiful, you need the third dressing the composition of which is the same as of the second one. The fourth dressing (2 parts of phosphorus and 1 part of potassium fertilizer at the rate of 1.8-2 oz /11 ft²) is applied after flowering. The feeding should be combined with watering and subsequent loosening of the soil. In other respects, growing of daffodils does not require any special knowledge, or any special skills.

As for watering, narcissus loves water, so it should be watered to the full depth of the roots – two buckets of water per 11 ft². If the site is not mulched, after watering the soil must be loosened and weeds must be removed. This is the way of caring for narcissi from the moment they sprouted and until they have finished blooming. What to do next, when daffodils have finished flowering? Water them and loosen the soil around them for 2-3 weeks more after flowering.

Flowering of daffodils

If you select and plant different varieties of daffodils, then they can bloom in your garden all summer long. Proper care and timely dressing are also important for the ornamental qualities of narcissus. Do not forget to deadhead the spent flowers for the plant not to waste energy and resources on the seeds ripening – that's all the care of daffodils in the flowering period. If you notice that this year flowers get smaller and worse in quality than in the last year, maybe it's time to transplant the daffodils with dividing the bulbs.

When to transplant daffodils

So your daffodils have faded. The site for the transplantation of daffodils is dug up and fertilized. The question is when to dig out daffodils after flowering. This should happen immediately after their leaves have turned yellow and faded naturally. This process can last two months, especially if the weather is rainy. On average during the growing season one bulb can form from two to four new bulbs. Dug-out bulbs should be cleared of the remains of wilted leaves, then you should examine the bulbs, remove and destroy those that were affected by insects or diseases. Cleared of dead scales, healthy bulbs are washed, kept in a strong solution of potassium permanganate for half an hour and divided. Separate those baby bulbs that fall off easily; if the baby bulbs hold fast to the mother's ones, try to wobble them, and they might get separated by themselves, but if separation occurs by force, then the break must be processed with crushed coal or ash. Do not cut off live roots of the bulbs. The bulbs should be dried in the shade. They should be stored until planting at a temperature of no higher than 63ºF, being placed spaciously, so that the wounds on the bulbs begin to cicatrize. But do not drag out with planting, otherwise the narcissus bulbs begin to lose moisture: the bulbs can be stored for no more than two months. Planting is carried out in the way we have already described.

Daffodils on the flowerbed

Propagation of daffodils

In addition to the vegetative way of reproduction (bulbs and their babies) that has been described in detail, daffodils can be propagated by sowing of newly harvested, not yet dried out seeds in the middle of summer or at the very end of autumn. The seeds are sown in seed-starting pots or boxes, sometimes even in open ground. The density of planting is small, the depth is three diameters of a seed grain. The first year or two the seedlings should not be disturbed for them to form a good, strong bulb. After that young daffodils are planted out on a permanent place. These daffodils will bloom in 6-7 years, small-flowered species will bloom in 3-4 years. But it should be noted that only wild species are propagated by seeds, hybrid forms do not preserve species characteristics with seed reproduction.

Yellow narcissus

Pests and diseases of daffodils

If you thoroughly follow the rules of care of daffodils, then you should not have any problems with them. But sometimes troubles may occur, and daffodils get ill for reasons that are beyond your control, so it's better to be ready for it. Narcissus is mostly affected by fungal diseases that have similar symptoms. The main fungal trouble of daffodils is fusarium wilt that at first affects the bottom of the bulb and then moves higher. The bulbs become soft, covered with a white and pink coating, the tips of the leaves turn yellow, then brown, and then they wither. Sometimes daffodils suffer from botrytis (gray mold) that looks like a lush gray plaque with black dots under the leaves covering the bulbs. The leaves are covered with light brown spots, and the stems and buds of narcissus rot. It happens that the daffodils fall ill with penicillium rot, or blue mold, that does not let the bulbs germinate in spring. Too high humidity contributes to the development of the disease. To protect daffodils from fungal diseases, their bulbs should be soaked in a fungicide solution for half an hour before planting. Sprouted daffodils should be sprinkled with a 1.5% Bordeaux mixture at the beginning of the growing season.

Narcissus is also susceptible to viral diseases, such as narcissus white streak virus, yellow stripe virus, mosaic virus, ringspot virus and others. Symptoms of these viral diseases are similar: blurs, spots and strokes of different shades, poor development of flowers, small bulbs. The ways of infection vary: through garden tools, seeds, soil, pollen, insects and this is what makes it difficult to fight with viral diseases that almost can not be cured. Try to plant large, healthy, pre-disinfected bulbs, since smaller ones get infected quickly; fight with insects carrying viruses (cicadas, beetles, whiteflies, mites and nematodes); timely remove and destroy the affected plants so that the infection does not spread to other specimens.

Disease of the daffodils

As to pests, daffodils mostly suffer from nematodes, mole cricket, slugs, root mites and daffodil flies. To prevent the infection of the nematode and daffodil flies, the bulbs are treated with hot water (110°F) for several hours before planting. If the infection has already occurred, nematodes are controlled with a pesticide, and daffodil fly is destroyed with a 2% solution of an insecticide. During the budding period, it is necessary to spray narcissi with avermectin at a rate of 0.07 fl oz per 35 fl oz of water (assuming that 35 fl is enough for processing 110 ft²).

Daffodils after flowering

Care of daffodils after flowering

Daffodils are winter-hardy, but if winter is very cold and snowless, their bulbs left for overwintering in the ground may suffer. A thaw causes the greatest harm to narcissi overwintering in the ground, during which the bulbs wake up, begin to sprout, and the plants are destroyed by frost that follows thaw. If you decided to keep the daffodils in the ground in winter, then, after complete withering and dying of the leaves, remove them from the flowerbeds and gently loosen the soil on the site. The next step that provides narcissus bulbs with a comfortable overwintering is mulching of the area with a 4-6 inch layer of peat, fallen leaves, straw, wood ash or special covering material (garden cloth). Mulching should be carried out before the first frost, when the ground is a little frozen already, and covering is removed when spring frosts have passed.

When to dig out the bulbs of daffodils

If your bulbs overwinter indoors, then they should be dug out in June-July when all the leaves have turned yellow, their tips have begun drying up, and the compact daffodil bush has broken up. This can last up to two months after the end of flowering of daffodils depending on the humidity and air temperature. Once the leaves have turned yellow, do not delay with the digging out of the bulbs, otherwise the leaves may fall off and it will be more difficult for you to find the bulbs in the ground. A small garden pitchfork is very convenient for digging out. After removing the bulbs from the ground, cut off the remaining foliage and put the bulbs in a dry dark place.

Daffodils in the garden

When the bulbs have been dried and the ground has crumbled, gently separate the babies from the mother bulb, trying not to damage the roots that have grown over summer. Do not do this in water for viruses not to move from one bulb to another. Remove and burn infected, deformed and soft bulbs. Gently rinse healthy bulbs with running water, soak them in a dark pink solution of potassium permanganate for 10-15 minutes for decontamination and dry them in a shady place with a temperature of 72-77 °F. If it is indoors, then the place must be ventilated.

Storage of daffodil bulbs

Bulbs of daffodils do not like plastic bags since they can’t breathe in them and this leads to the rotting of the bulb center. Store narcissus bulbs in a cool place with good ventilation. The fact is that they release gas, and if this gas is not removed by ventilation, the bulb will just suffocate. The best storage place is a semi-dark ventilated room at an air temperature of 50-54 °F and humidity of about 70%. Bulbs are placed in a thin layer in a wooden framed crate or tray. During winter storage, try to check the condition of dormant bulbs every week, and if you find sick or soft ones, you should immediately remove them until the infection has spread to other bulbs. White or yellow spots on the outer peel of bulbs are signs of putrefactive diseases, and darkened bulbs are affected by a fungal infection. The bad smell of the bulb is a symptom of a bacterial rot disease.

White daffodils

Well, and finally we will tell a few words about the healing properties of the plant: in eastern medicine the bulb of narcissus was used to treat mastitis. The bulb was cleaned, crushed, mixed with rye flour or thick rice porridge and applied to a sick chest. When the drug dried, the rind was rinsed off with warm water. This procedure was performed 2-3 times a day and was effective if the patient did not have allergies to the components contained in the bulb. It was discovered in practice, and if after the first use of the drug the patient had itching, reddening of the skin or nettle rash, other medications had to be used. But this, as they say, is a completely different story ...

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