It won’t be long until you’ll be seeing crates of bulbs, ready for fall planting. If you’re like me you want the most ‘bang-for-your-buck,’ and my way of doing that is to buy tough, long-lived, weather-tolerant, as well as beautiful, choices. The first one on that list would have to be daffodils (a.k.a. Narcissus) – a first harbinger of spring.

They are quite flexible in that there are species for almost any climate, in most soils, from woodlands to meadows. One of their main requirements is the same as most plants: loamy and deep soil that is reasonably fertile and well drained.

Elaborate prep of the soil isn’t necessary but it wouldn’t hurt to spade the area to a depth of 12” and put good compost or rotted manure into the bottom of the trench. Avoid planting in hot, barren soils or in boggy areas. A slight slope, sheltered from drying winds is ideal. To bloom well they should get at least a half a day of full sun.

The best time to plant is August–October but you can plant even into December, as long as the ground isn’t frozen. In most areas, lifting the bulbs for winter isn’t necessary if you pay attention to zonal requirements before you purchase.

Daffodils should be planted anywhere from 3”-6” apart. Depth should be about three times the height of the bulb, depending on the consistency of the soil (heavier soils, plant shallower). In general, shallow planting will bring on more rapid multiplication; deeper planting will slow the process. The best time to separate them is mid-summer, when the foliage has turned brown. Never cut off the green foliage; it’s feeding next year’s bloom.

If it becomes necessary to lift them before or during the bloom try to take them up in a ball of soil rather than bare, if you want the bloom to happen. They should bloom the following spring just fine. If your bulbs aren’t blooming, they may be too crowded or be in too shady a location. Moving or separating may be necessary as often as every three years or as infrequent as every five or six years. I’ve known daffodil beds to be many years in the same location and still be blooming beautifully. Keeping the soil healthy, mulching, feeding, and watering regularly and getting plenty sunlight will keep them happy a long time.

Daffodils make great interplantings in borders, with early perennials like hosta or Lenten rose. They’re beautiful when planted with other spring bulbs such as tulips, hyacinth, crocus, especially when you’re planting some of the miniature varieties of daffodil.

They come in early, mid-season and late varieties so you can actually extend your daffodil joy by purchasing some of each. The list is long for great choices and you’re pretty safe with any of them. Typically, they’re not a bulb the critters prefer so you can count on them still being in their bed come spring.

We have daffodils on the north side of the house, in a bed filled with shade-loving plants; heuchera, columbine, and ones mentioned above. In the spring they’re in sun until around noon. They don’t bloom as heavily as they would if they were in all-day sun, but they’re fine for us.

The bulbs I never buy and plant anymore, are tulips. I do love them and used to plant them often, the key word being “often.” They were almost an annual! If the critters didn’t get them, we’d have a warm wet winter and if anything managed to come up, it was quite contorted and rarely had a bloom. By the fifth or sixth year you couldn’t tell I’d ever planted them. Frustrating! Expensive! I’ll enjoy them in someone else’s yard.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to value the tough, long-lived, hardy plants, be they bulbs, shrubs, or annuals. Daffodils are just such plants. I can drive around anywhere in the county in springtime and I’ll see fields where there once was a house and a yard and someone who loved daffodils. The person and house are long gone but the nodding heads of the cheerful blooms speak of a time when a family grew here, gardened here, and probably had grand dreams as we all do. I”ll stop awhile and think on these long-ago families and imagine the person whose handiwork I now admire. Life is … life, and we live on in ways we never imagine. Then I’ll smile and nod at the unseen as I drive away.

Sherrie Ottinger, aka: “The TN Dirtgirl,” is a regenerative Earth thinker, teacher, columnist, author and speaker. Her passion is all things “dirt.” She may be reached at with comments or questions.