How and when to plant daffodil bulbs: top tips for cheerful spring flowers

Learn how and when to plant daffodil bulbs and you can bring a splash of sunny yellow to the post-winter garden – it's simple with these steps

how and when to plant daffodil bulbs
(Image credit: iBulb)

Want to know how and when to plant daffodil bulbs for the best results next spring? Follow our expert advice and you'll be rewarded with a wonderful display that will lift the garden after a long, gray winter. 

Daffodils are a must-have when it comes to planting bulbs. Not only are they reliable and easy-going, but they will come back year after year. And there is plenty of choice, too. In fact, there are 13,000 different varieties of daffodil, which is the common name for any plant which belongs to the Narcissus group. They can be split into 12 main types, defined by the size and shape of their petals. Some have large trumpets and single flowers, others are cup-shaped, while others offer clusters of blooms on the same stem. 

Whether you prefer pops of primary yellow, dreamy whites, gold or uplifting orange, there's a dependable daffodil to suit every color palette. And there are lots of ways to plant them too – whether that's a golden ribbon of flowers running along a verge, a group of bright pots placed on a patio, or some splashes of sunshine nosing through the lawn.

To help you create your own springtime show, we've brought together plenty of advice on how and when to plant daffodil bulbs. It's one of the easiest jobs to tick off the list this autumn.

When to plant daffodil bulbs

Knowing when to plant daffodil bulbs is the first step in creating a gorgeous springtime display. 'Plant bulbs in September and early October,' says Anne Swithinbank, gardening expert of Amateur Gardening. This will allow them to establish deep root systems, which help them take up water in spring to fuel up next year's bulbs. They will flower from February to May, depending on the variety and when you planted them.

'If you discover a bag of unplanted bulbs in November or December, it is still worth planting them,' she adds. 'They eventually sort themselves out.'

Don't forget to get your other spring flowers in too – our guide on how to plant hyacinth bulbs has lots of useful tips if you're looking for advice.

yellow daffodils in pot

Plant your daffodil bulbs in autumn for a springtime display

(Image credit: iBulb)

Where should you plant daffodil bulbs?

Daffodils generally prefer a sunny spot in well-drained soil – this is particularly the case with smaller types known as 'jonquils' – although some can cope with light shade.

As with many bulbs, avoid putting them in heavily water-logged soil or very shady spots. These sorts of conditions can prevent the daffodils from flowering and encourage the bulbs to rot.

daffodils

Daffodils prefer a sunny spot

(Image credit: iBulb)

How to plant daffodil bulbs in the ground

When considering your springtime flowerbed ideas, be sure to put daffodils on the list. They're so simple to plant.

  1. Start by digging over the soil and removing any weeds.
  2. Add some homemade compost (our guide on composting has all the info you need) or buy a bag of well-rotted manure and fork some in.
  3. Take a bulb and plant it in the soil, at a depth roughly three times its height. Make sure the pointy side is facing upwards. 'Take care when handling as some bulbs are treated with fungicide and sap can irritate the skin,' advises Anne Swithinbank. For this reason, it's best to wear gardening gloves.
  4. To make a good clump that will create a pool of color, plant at least seven bulbs together in a cluster. They should be planted about 10cm (4in) apart.
  5. Cover the bulbs with soil. There's normally no need to water them after planting unless the soil is very dry.

daffodils with blossom tree in background

Brighten up your garden with a sea of yellow blooms

(Image credit: iBulb)

How to plant daffodil bulbs in containers

Daffodils are perfectly suited to container gardening. A pot of daffodils can add instant cheer to a drab patio, a boost to a front garden or they may be used to brighten up a window box. You can even get creative with bulb lasagne ideas and layer them up with other spring bulbs for a long-lasting display.

  1. Find a pot with drainage holes, and put some pebbles or broken bits of pot in the bottom. This helps with drainage and air circulation.
  2. Fill three-quarters of the pot full with compost such as John Innes No 2 or John Innes No 3.
  3. Add some slow-release fertilizer and a handful of grit, and then, wearing gloves, plant the bulbs in the container. You can set the bulbs a little closer than you would in the ground, but make sure they're not touching. They should be at a depth roughly three times the height of the bulb. Make sure the pointed side is facing upwards.
  4. Cover with soil and water well.

Narcissi are also a popular pick for growing indoors to brighten up the home. You can learn how to force bulbs indoors in our guide.

daffodils in containers on stand

Daffodils are a top choice for containers

(Image credit: iBulb)

How do you get daffodils to grow in the grass? 

There's no prettier sight than naturalized daffodils – the term for flowers that grow through the grass. It is an easy effect to achieve.

  1. Take a handful of bulbs and toss them up in the air. Planting them where they land will create a natural and informal effect.
  2. Using a bulb planter or a small, sharp-edged trowel, remove plugs of turf, and insert each bulb into each cavity at a depth of three times their height. Replace the turf on top.
  3. For a swathe of bulbs, cut out an H-shaped segment of turf and drop the bulbs into the space. Replace the turf lid, and gently water.
  4. The flowers will multiply over the years. 

Why not learn how to plant crocus bulbs too, to add to the springtime display?

naturalized daffodils in lawn with crocus

Daffodils will naturalize over time – try planting them with crocus bulbs for even more spring color

(Image credit: Norma Brazendale/Alamy Stock Photo)

What should you do with daffodil bulbs after they've finished flowering?

Once the daffodils are in the ground – it’s job done. These low-maintenance plants generally do not need to be lifted once they have flowered, unlike tulips (you can learn how to store tulip bulbs with our guide).

'Dead-heading will improve appearance and save bulb energy, but if impractical, healthy daffs should continue to bloom regardless,' says Anne Swithinbank. 'Species should be allowed to seed.

'Never knot foliage as this prevents leaves from working properly to refuel the bulb for next year. Allow them to die back naturally and if you must cut, allow at least six weeks after flowering.'

If you've planted your daffodils in pots, the bulbs can be left in the same containers for a couple of years. But, it's worth refreshing the top layer of compost annually and also adding some fertilizer to ensure plenty of super healthy flowers. 

white daffodil

Daffodils come in a spectrum of shades, from bold yellow to cream

(Image credit: iBulb)

What should you do if your daffodils aren't flowering?

Daffodils are one of the more reliable bulbs for flowering year after year. However, if you notice that your show is depleting and you're no longer getting all those beautiful blooms as expected, then there are a few tips you can try.

'Daffodils coming up all leaf and no flower are referred to as "blind",' says Anne Swithinbank of Amateur Gardening. 'This can happen if they are in deep shade, have suffered from spring drought, or the bulbs are so congested below ground they cannot swell to flowering size. 

'Try dead-heading and liquid feeding but lifting, dividing and replanting is often the answer either while in leaf, or as leaves wither. Dormant bulbs are easy to lift, dry off, store and replant in September.'

mass of white daffodils

Planting en masse will create maximum impact

(Image credit: iBulb)

Which types of daffodil bulbs should you choose? 

Want to find a great daffodil variety to grow in your garden? Try one of these beautiful options this year. 

1. Early blooms

Narcissus 'Rijnveld's Early Sensation' flowers

The 'Rijnveld's Early Sensation' daffodil

(Image credit: Clare Gainey/Alamy Stock Photo)

For guaranteed early flowering, choose 'Rijnveld's Early Sensation'. It's a classic, plain golden yellow daffodil which will push through soon after Christmas. It grows as tall as 30cm (around 12in).

2. Clusters of mini flowers

Narcissus 'Tete a tete' in the garden

'Tête à Tête' is a classic choice

(Image credit: Clare Gainey/Alamy Stock Photo)

Miniature 'Tête à Tête' stands just 15cm (6in) tall with a bright yellow trumpet. Perfect for small planters and rockeries, these jolly little flowers appear in March and April.

Anne Swithinbank also suggests 'Minnow'. 'From the multi-flowered Tazetta group, this dainty daff bears from 2–4 cream-colored flowers per stem from March to April, centered with flat yellow cups,' she says. It makes a lovely addition to window box ideas.

3. Multicolored picks

Narcissus 'Itzim'

'Itzim' is an elegant variety

(Image credit: Clare Gainey/Alamy Stock Photo)

For something strikingly different, 'Smiling Maestro' has bright yellow petals with a hot orange, cup-shaped trumpet. It's not subtle but it will certainly make a splash.

You could also try 'Stint', as Anne suggests. It has flowers of a bright, almost acid lemon hue with slightly richer cups, opening in March, with usually 1–3 per stem. 'The heads nod prettily and look great alongside blue-flowered muscari or scilla in borders or containers,' she adds. Why not learn how to plant a bulb lasagne and combine all three?

'Itzim' is another option, which has soft-yellow, backswept petals contrasting with bright orange trumpets in March.

4. Pale and stylish wonders

Narcissus 'Petrel'

The beautiful 'Petrel' daffodil

(Image credit: OntheRun photo/Alamy Stock Photo)

If yellow is not your thing, opt for an elegant white daffodil instead. Try 'Petrel' (pictured above) for two to five nodding flowers on upright stems and a March/April flowering time. 

Or, for a warmer toned, creamy-colored bloom, 'Toto' is a good choice. 

5. Sweet-smelling delights

Narcissus 'Erlicheer'

'Erlicheer' has a lovely fragrance

(Image credit: RM Floral/Alamy Stock Photo)

'Erlicheer' is an exotic-looking double flower with a delicious scent. It has white petals with an ivory-colored center, and it flowers in early to mid-spring. 

Anne also recommends 'Avalanche', which has white petals and lemon cups, each richly fragrant.

Did you know that some tulips are scented too? You can learn how and when to plant tulip bulbs with our guide.

6. Naturalizing beauties

Close-up of the spring flowering Narcissus 'Hawera'

'Hawera' is a delicate variety

(Image credit: Jacky Parker/Alamy Stock Photo)

If you have space for daffodils to multiply, try 'Hawera'. It has a dainty, pale flower with a short trumpet. The clumps should increase from year to year and are a lovely way to jolly up a lawn.

Where to buy daffodil bulbs

Now that you know how and when to plant daffodil bulbs, you probably want some of your own. You can easily find them in early autumn, in supermarkets, garden centers, or market stalls. If you are buying them in person, choose large, firm bulbs and avoid any which show signs of mold.

You can also order them online for convenience. We've rounded up some quicklinks to help start your search.

Shop daffodil bulbs in the UK:

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