Plant and Seed Shop
Flower February - April, plant August - November
These harbingers of spring are the Labrador puppies of the plant world - how can you not have any?
What's the difference between a daffodil and a Narcissus?
There isn't any, the botanical name is Narcissus and so all daffodils are Narcissi. A daffodil is an artificial category dreamt up by gardeners for Narcissi that have long trumpets - and usually that are wholly or mainly yellow in colour. If a Narcissus has a short cup-shaped trumpet and particularly if it has pale petals and the trumpet is darker in colour, it will usually be referred to as a Narcissus.
If you start before the middle of September (but the sooner the better), you can have Spring Flowering Bulbs for the house in flower at or just after Christmas. If you can get them planted before November, then they will have a chance to start growing before it begins to get very cold which will help them to flower all the earlier, they'll certainly be up early in the new year and long before the outdoor ones have woken up.
How to use them
The larger flowered varieties look good when planted through grass, plant them in clumps of around 10 bulbs rather than dotted around. This makes them look more spectacular when they flower and easier to deal with the leaves after flowering. Long thin single rows of flowers just look a bit sad somehow.
Bear in mind though if you're tempted to go for one of those giant sacks of bulbs that it's actually quite a task to plant them at the correct depth (the top of the bulb should be about twice it's height below the surface of the soil) and that they should be planted as soon as possible after buying them.
To plant in grass, cut a large X with a spade, this will give you four triangles with two cut sides and one intact side, peel back the turf of each of these triangles (you won't actually be able to "peel" - you'll need to force the spade an inch or so under the turf to loosen it first). You then have a square of soil to plant your bulbs in. I strongly suggest that you have a large sheet of something standing by to put the soil on that you dig out - a wooden board is better than plastic sheet. Use a spade to dig with, trowels encourage small shallow holes - spades encourage larger - and you can put several bulbs in the larger hole. Plant your bulbs, replace the soil, fold the turf back over, tread it down gently and water to settle it.
You could use one of those bulb planters that looks like a bottomless tin-can with a handle - depends whether or not you think you've enough junk in the shed - I use a spade.
The shorter multi-headed varieties look better up close than at a distance and so are better placed in containers around the house or in pots to bring into the house, these do better indoors in pots than the larger flowered varieties and again the shops will be full of cheap cut flowers of the those.
I've always had success with Daffodil Tete a Tete in pots they are now much cheaper than they were several years ago and are generally widely available. Other varieties frequently come and go with plant breeders producing new ones regularly and phasing out old ones even though there is little wrong with them for the sake of novelty so it is largely a case of seeing what there is when you come to buy them. Hunting down a particular variety can be time consuming, potentially expensive and of little value to most people.
Plant - In containers, borders or beds or naturalized in grass.
Depth - 5-8" of soil above the top of the bulb, less in clay, more in sandy soils, can be planted on a bed of grit or gravel if rotting is a problem.
Depth in containers - The top of the bulbs should emerge from the compost, they do well in broad and shallow containers. Moss can be used to cover the bulbs from about half way up to almost the tip. In a large outdoor container you can plant two layers of bulbs to get more in, one above the other.
Cultivation - after flowering, remove seed heads so not to waste resources, in containers water once with double strength liquid fertiliser, plenty of it to reach the bulbs and roots.
Let the leaves die down naturally - don't tie the leaves, cut them or otherwise damage them in any way, this is when the bulb is built up again for next years flowers, any interference will stop this and give smaller, weaker or blind flowering. Leave at least 6 weeks for the leaves to do their job, if possible don't touch them at all until they are completely brown and shriveled and can be pulled up with little resistance.
In grass don't mow for at least 6 weeks after the last flowers, longer if possible.
Container cultivation - if the containers are to be brought indoors, grow them on somewhere cool but sheltered, a cold greenhouse, conservatory or similar is ideal. Let them grow as tall as possible before bringing them indoors to flower as they may get leggy and even not flower if brought in too early. They will last longest in a cool but bright position. Support may be necessary.
After the flowers are over, put them outside in a sheltered position and grow / water / feed as normal for bulbs. They will not perform as well the next year at all, so don't even bother trying the same bulbs in containers again. Bulbs for indoor containers should be bought fresh each year. When the leaves have died down, they can be left to dry out and planted in the garden in the autumn as outdoor bulbs. They won't be very good in year 2, but will be fine from 3 onwards.
Planting in containers
The key point to remember is that these are temporary plantings, so you can plant the bulbs very close together, almost touching, for the maximum density of flowers. Buy the largest bulbs you can afford, smaller ones just don't perform as well and the smallest produce lots of leaves but no flowers at all. After flowering plant them in the garden as soon as you can.
Bulb fibre is often recommended, but is only really necessary if the bulbs are to be planted in bowls without drainage. I've always treated bulbs like any other container plants and use ordinary potting compost in containers that have drainage holes and get excellent results.
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