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Narcissus are long-lived with spring blooms

August 24, 2016

As the son of the river god Cephissus and the nymph Liriope, the boy was the archetype of a Greek god. Ovid's Metamorphoses, Book III, says that Liriope, his mother is told by the blind seer Tiresias that her son would live a long life, as long as he never saw himself.

Unfortunately the boy as a young god angered the other gods when he rejected the love of their favorite young man Ameinias, the the myth later changed to his rejection of the nymph Echo. Dejected, he pined away by a pool of water, and fell in love again - with his own reflection and there he died. In that spot grew the first of the flowers that bear his name, Narcissus. And if any flower deserves to be in love with itself, it is the daffodil, I mean Narcissus. In America Narcissus and daffodils mean the same thing, so all daffodils are Narcissus, and all Narcissus are daffodils. 

Narcissus naturalize, or increase in numbers by dividing into more and more bulbs to form colonies. These permanent plantings are resistant to both deer and rodents. 
Plant your Narcissus in the fall after the soil cools down a bit.

The earlier in the season you plant them the better. You can put them in rows for cutting flowers, use them under evergreens and along walkways, put them into rock gardens or cottage gardens, or best of all, plant drifts of them in semi- wild settings where they can multiply and bloom seemingly forever. Many an abandoned homestead is only recognizable by the persistent daffodils that outline the former foundation. 

You often hear that all Narcissus grow in USDA Zones 3 through 8, though hardiness can vary from variety to variety. Luckily almost all Narcissus grow well in USDA zones 4-9 which includes most of the United States.

All Narcissus do grow best in well-drained soil in full sun or light shade. If your garden is especially hot, try planting where they get some afternoon shade. Many have good luck planting them underneath deciduous trees that won't leaf out until well after the Narcissus bloom. 

If you cannot plant the bulbs right away, store them in open bags in a dark, dry, cool area such as an unheated garage. Never refrigerate daffodil bulbs before planting. 

If your soil is mostly clay or just not very fertile, dig in compost and add bonemeal or other organic fertilizers. Dig down at least eight inches for a deep bed for best root development and a long life. 

Always plant bulbs with the neck or narrow ends up. Space the bulbs six inches apart whether in rows or in un-arranged beds.

Tamp the soil firmly over the newly planted Narcissus. You can rake or scratch in some powdered or pelleted slow-release organic bulb fertilizer over the planted bed. 

Water the bed well after planting and keep it fairly moist during the fall. Between now and winter the bulbs are growing all of their new roots for next year's blooms. 
Apply a light dressing of organic bulb fertilizer every year in early spring and right after the flowers fade in late spring or early summer. 

After the Narcissus bloom, remove the dead flowers but let the leaves die back on their own. This gives the plants several weeks of green leaves to feed the bulbs for next year's flowers. 

Unlike tulips, the deer and rodents leave Narcissus flowers and bulbs alone, so your plantings have a better chance of coming back year after year. After several years you may begin to notice more leaves and fewer flowers in your plantings.

The bulbs are overcrowded from years of multiplying. Just dig them up, divide them and plant them in new beds or give them away to friends.

The best time to dig them up and divide them is after all the foliage has died in early summer. 

Narcissus are long-lived bulbous perennial plants with spring-blooming flowers that can naturalize and live for many years. When they burst into bloom next year and every year after, you will just love yourself for planting the aptly named Narcissus.

  • Paul Barbano writes about gardening from his home in Rehoboth Beach. Contact him by writing to P. O. Box 213, Lewes, DE 19958.