Crushing on Yellow: Spring Daffodils
By, Rob Sproule
Yellow is pure joy in the garden. It’s honest, buoyant optimism that can’t be suppressed. It’s not subtle, it can be overwhelming in large doses, and it’s impossible to resist.
Unless you have a Forsythia, Daffodils are the first yellow of spring. They sneak through the soil when it’s barely thawed and bloom while the perennials still slumber.
A massive group of almost 25,000 known species and cultivars, Daffodils and Narcissus are actually synonyms. I used to think that Narcissus were just the potent smelling Paperwhites, but it’s the whole group.
Embrace the Vanity
In Greek mythology, Narcissus was a hunter known for his beauty (his mother was a Nymph, after all). He spurned those who loved him, only wanting to love himself. Nemesis (the deity of retribution) lured him to a still pool where Narcissus fell in love with his reflection. Never wanting to look away from his beauty, he eventually died on that spot.
In some stories he’s turned into a narcissus flower (the gods did that a lot). The name reminds us that daffodils are proud little flowers that are only interested in themselves: and I love that.
With a yellow as beautiful as they have, let’s throw subtlety out the window. They’re gorgeous and they know it! When daffs come up in my garden in early spring when all else is brown and bleak, they’re like drops of pure sun fallen from the sky. They’re strong enough to bloom during spring storms and bold enough to make us believe in their promise of a summer full of colour. To me, they’ve earned their pride.
With many varieties hardy to our zone, Daffs are an Alberta favourite. Buy them as a Fall bulb (it can take 5 years to grow a seed to flowering size). Plant them deeper than other bulbs, 6 to 8 inches down, pointy side up an in groups of 5-10. Sprinkle in some bone meal and make sure the spot gets plenty of sun and has good drainage. They hate wet feet.
Resist the urge to cut them when they bloom, especially for the first year. In addition to the reason below, cutting the flowers will deny the plant from pulling nutrients back into the bulb. Bulbs store nutrients and then spend them to bloom. If you cut them, it won’t be able to harvest some nutrients back down and it will weaken the bulb.
Don’t Store with the Onions
All parts of daffodils are toxic, especially the bulbs. It’s hard to gauge how many accidental poisonings there have been as many of them are treated at home (and many are unaware of what poisoned them), but it’s more common than from other toxic plants.
In the UK especially, there are dozens of documented cases of the bulbs being confused with onions and either eaten whole or cooked with. Luckily the bulbs are only deadly in large doses so, besides serious tummy trouble, fatalities are rare.
If you have sensitive skin wear gloves when cutting them, as the sap can irritate. If you must cut them, don’t blend them with other cut flowers in a vase or you’ll find the others quickly wilted due to a “don’t come near me” enzyme that the daffs release.