Soule Garden: Daffodils are delightful in Northwest Tucson - Tucson Local Media: El Sol

Soule Garden: Daffodils are delightful in Northwest Tucson

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Posted: Wednesday, February 23, 2011 6:00 am

Daffodils are emerging from their summer dormancy, poking up their little green leaves, and to tell the truth, I had forgotten all about them. So if you want a flower you can plant and forget about, I have the solution for you!

A daffodil is the same plant as a narcissus. If you remember Greek mythology, Narcissus was the youth so taken with his own beauty that he spent hours gazing at his reflection in pools of still water. This story gives us two pieces of information. The flowers are going to be fairly stunning, and they thrive in the hot, dry, rocky, alkaline hillsides and Mediterranean climate of Greece. A climate and landscape somewhat like our own, with a caveat.

The original “species” of daffodils is native to that “Greek” area and thus well-adapted to a climate like our own. But as daffodils were planted around the world and plant breeders selected for various colors, petal shapes and cold hardiness, their heat tolerance changed as well. So now, some daffodils are more adapted than others.

If you order daffodils, be sure you get those rated for Zone 9 unless you live in SaddleBrooke, Catalina or Oracle. You folks are in Zone 8 for daffodils (but not everything).

Daffodils or narcissus? Technically they are the same plant. Narcissus is the Latin name for the plant while daffodil is its common name. But wait!  Over the past few centuries, in the trade and gardener circles, narcissus has come to mean the wild type with clusters of small flowers, while daffodil is applied to the larger, showier ones. For our purposes, the narcissus grow better here. Just to further confuse the issue, some of the narcissus also are called paperwhites. But wait, there’s even more! The common name jonquil is used for these flowers, particularly in the South; but strictly speaking that name belongs only to the rush-leaved “Narcissus jonquilla” and cultivars derived from it.

What ever you call them, they are easy to care for, delightful to enjoy, and should come back year after year with little fuss or worry on your part.

It is too late to mail order for spring bloom, but you can purchase bulbs from the nursery and plant them right now. Here’s how: 

Light. Plant in filtered light, like under a mesquite, on the east side of home or tucked under some shrubs. Avoid baking in the afternoon sun, even when they are dormant.

Soil. Sandy soils are best so that bulbs will not get rot next summer when they are dormant.

Depth is important to bulbs. The best rule of thumb is that the bulb should be planted two to three times as deep as it is tall. Thus a two-inch bulb (from rootlets to pointy tip) should be planted with the growing tip four to six inches below the top of the soil.

Water. Allow the soil to dry fairly well between waterings, but not become bone dry. Drying allows oxygen to filter into the soil, and the bulbs need plenty of oxygen for emerging from dormancy and flowering.  Once bulbs show tiny green shoots, keep the soil a little moister. They will reward the extra attention with a longer season of flowering.

General care. Once bulbs are done blooming, leave the leaves to make energy for next year’s bloom. Let old leaves turn brown to the ground before you remove them. Fertilizer is not necessary, although using a bloom food half-strength will not hurt.

Fragrance. Do take time to stop and smell the flowers, but only if you like musky fragrances. Don’t cut any for indoors until they pass the spousal sniff test. My spouse hates the smell but the cats and I adore the aroma.

As always, enjoy!

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