Our Experience of Growing Daffodils in The UK

Written by qualified horticulturist Elizabeth Smith. Published to Spring Plants. Updated: 22nd March 2024.

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No other plant welcomes spring in my garden quite like bell-shaped daffodils; where there was once an empty border or plain grass, tall stems slowly poke through to reveal distinctive star-shaped golden petals.

I’ve been growing them in my borders, pots or even in my lawn; daffodils are versatile rebloomers that will often naturalise and come back year after year.

Key plant details:

  • I’ve tried mixing varieties that bloom from late January to April, so I can achieve up to three months of flowering.
  • There’s no need to lift the bulbs after flowering; I just leave them in place and they always come back.
  • I’ve always found daffodils are easy to maintain, in most cases, there’s no need to feed or water them, and the pesky squirrels in my garden ignore them.
  • I’ve had success mixing them with crocus, early tulips, hellebores and other spring plants for spring colour.

Size

Height: Up to 75cm (30in)

Spread: Minimal 

Location

Borders, beds, pots and lawns

Sunlight

Full sun or partial shade

Hardiness

US zone 3-8 and hardy in all parts of the UK

Water & Feed

No need to add fertiliser. Extra water required for potted daffodils

Companions

Crocus, snowdrops and other early flowering plants

Planting

Plant bulbs in the autumn to a depth at least twice their height. Daffodils prefer well-draining soil that holds some moisture

Flowering

Most bloom in March and April while early starters flower in January and February

Pair of wild daffodils

A pair of wild daffodil (Narcissus pseudonarcissus) – I took this photo on the 2nd March 2023

Daffodil bulbs

My photo of daffodil bulbs

Wild daffodil (Narcissus pseudonarcissus) closeup

Closeup photo of a wild daffodil (Narcissus pseudonarcissus) that I took on the 2nd March 2023

5 of the Best Daffodils for the UK

There are thousands of varieties of daffodils to choose from, and most will perform well in any part of the UK, but one thing I look out for is when they bloom.

By carefully choosing daffodils, I can see flowers from as early as January up until the end of April.

Based on my experience and testing over the years, here are six of what I feel are the best daffodils for the UK:

Early:

Spring Dawn Daffodils (Narcissus Spring Dawn) – One of the earliest flowering daffodils which in my garden bloomed from January into February. I was impressed with the two-tone colours of cream petals and a yellow inner trumpet-like flower. Height: 25cm (10 inches).

Early Sensation Daffodils (Narcissus ‘Rijnveld’s Early Sensation’) – Another early bloomer that I’ve seen flower in January up to early March. They grow up to 40cm (16inch) in height and I’ve seen them produce stunning all-yellow petals and flowers.

Mid-Spring:

Golden Trumpet Daffodils (Narcissus “Dutch Master”) – This is the most popular variety in the UK and the first daffodil I ever grew en masse. It rises to 45cm (18inch) tall in my garden and produces golden yellow petals and trumpet flowers in March and April.

Jetfire Daffodils (Narcissus Jetfire) – Expect bright yellow petals and distinctive orange trumpets from this short daffodil that reaches up to 20cm in height. Jetfire’s bloom in March and April, and I’ve found that when I tested it in my garden, it was well suited to pots, smaller beds and rockeries.

Late Spring

Jonquilla Daffodils (Narcissus Jonquilla) is my first pick for late spring, which I’ve seen flower from late March into late April. Expect up to three bright yellow blooms, each with small cup-like centres, atop slim 30cm (12inch) stems. 

Poet’s Daffodils (Narcissus Poeticus) – is the latest flowering daffodil I’ve ever grown, which in my garden bloomed into late April; and a few even surprised me by lasting into early May. Delicate white petals surround a small yellow bud-like centre with a red ribbon trim sitting atop 30cm (12inch) stems.

How to Grow Daffodils in the UK, According to an Expert

Despite having tested and experimented with several varieties of daffodils over the years in my Surrey garden, I asked horticulturist Hannah Miller to answer a few questions for our readers:

How Do Daffodils Arrive?

Daffodil bulbs are lifted in early summer and sold from mid-summer into autumn.

They are usually sold in netting or in smaller plastic bags with vent holes.

I’ve stored the bulbs for several months without issue, I just kept them in a dark cool location until I was ready to plant them out.

Where is the best location to plant daffodils?

I’ve planted daffodils successfully in pots, troughs, beds, borders and rockeries.

I don’t think they work well in shallow or small containers, as I’ve lost of few when the stems snapped in the wind.

From what I can tell, they perform better when grown in a deeper pot.

I think they look lovely when grown in clusters or, if a row is preferred, in front of a flower bed.

Will daffodils survive the winter?

Nearly all of the daffodil bulbs in my Surrey garden have survived several UK winters, but I’m careful where I plant them and keep them away from the damp, boggy part of the garden. Most of the daffodils I’ve grown get slightly shorter each year, this is normal, and I’ve had success in remedying this by:

Lifting and replanting them in improved soil every 3-5 years or by churning in good quality compost around the bulbs in early spring each year.

Do daffodils need a lot of sunlight?

Daffodils will thrive in full sun but in my garden, they’ve always put on a good show in part shade as well.

What soil conditions are best for daffodils?

Like most bulbs, daffodils may rot or suffer from diseases if left in soggy, saturated ground conditions. They prefer moist soil during the growing season, especially when grown in pots, but the ground should always be well-drained.

I’ve had success by improving the drainage in my garden and growing the bulbs in elevated positions where possible.

Based on my experience, they don’t need a ton of fertiliser but they perform best in moderately fertile soil.

When and how should daffodil bulbs be planted?

I used to plant the bulbs to a depth around twice their size and spaced 10-15cm (4-6inches) apart.

Due to some of the stems snapping and bending, I’ve started digging them in a bit deeper, up to four times their size, and so far, so good. I haven’t noticed significant losses, and they seem more stable in the soil.

I’ve found the best time to plant daffodils is in the autumn so they can set roots before the cold winter months set in.

Which pests and diseases affect daffodils?

I’ve noticed recently that slugs and snails are causing more damage to my daffodils than ever before.

Perhaps this is due to the warmer winters and mild early spring periods we’ve had recently.

Much of the damage appears to be on the tender, early shoots and the flowers, and while not a major issue, it’s still of concern to me.

This page lists some of the best ways to rid your garden of these slugs and snails.

There are several mites, flies, and diseases that affect daffodils, but I’ve never had issues with them. More information about them can be found on the Daffodil Society website.

When do daffodils flower and how long for?

I’ve seen early daffodils flower in January and late bloomers in April. Each variety will flower for around two weeks, sometimes a little longer, hence why I grow several varieties together so I can increase the amount of time I see blooms in my garden.

Are there any special water and fertiliser requirements?

Daffodils are carefree and in my garden, they require only minimal care.

I don’t apply fertiliser but I dig in fresh compost each year which I feel is beneficial.

The daffodils I grow in pots require fresh compost yearly, and extra water as many of the containers dry out quickly, even in the winter.

Are daffodils toxic or harmful?

All parts of the daffodil are toxic, and care should be taken when handling or storing bulbs and cut flowers.

Daffodils can cause skin irritation, stomach upset, nausea and diarrhoea if swallowed.

More detailed information about toxicity can be found on the Poison website.

Daffodil Mixed Flower Bulbs. Size 10 up (50)
Daffodil Bulbs, Narcissi Bulbs Dwarf, Tete a Tete - 100 Bulbs
Daffodil Mixed Flower Bulbs. Size 10 up (50)
Daffodil Bulbs, Narcissi Bulbs Dwarf, Tete a Tete - 100 Bulbs
Daffodil Mixed Flower Bulbs. Size 10 up (50)
Daffodil Mixed Flower Bulbs. Size 10 up (50)
Daffodil Bulbs, Narcissi Bulbs Dwarf, Tete a Tete - 100 Bulbs
Daffodil Bulbs, Narcissi Bulbs Dwarf, Tete a Tete - 100 Bulbs

How to Care For Daffodils After They’ve Finished Flowering

Here are my five tips to help you get the most from your daffodils, year after year. These are based on my experience, and I have done a lot of testing over the last few years.

1) Deadhead the blooms as soon as they’ve finished flowering but leave as much of the stem in place as possible until it decays away naturally.

2) Don’t cut back either the stem or the leaves prematurely, as they send energy back into the bulb. This helps the bulb survive the dormant period and ensures it comes back strong next year.

3) Don’t tie the fading foliage in knots; I’ve seen many gardeners do this to tidy up their gardens, but once tied, the leaves cannot photosynthesise properly and won’t be able to send energy into the bulb.

4) Many daffodils will naturalise; this means they’ll grow back year on year without any help from the gardener, but there is one drawback – daffodils get smaller and smaller each year, usually until they grow only a few inches high. If this happens, relocate the daffodils to a new spot or lift and dig in lots of fresh soil and compost. This is something I do every few years or so, and they’ve always bounced back.

5) Daffodils don’t need regular fertilisation, but a good spring feed with a low nitrogen feed can be beneficial, especially to mature daffs that have been in the same spot for years. Alternatively, top up the soil with compost, leafmould or other organic material in the spring.

Daffodil Companion Plants

I’ve grown daffodils with plenty of different spring plants over the years, but these six spring-flowering plants should go well with them:

Also consider:

Problem Solving:

Here are some solutions to common daffodil problems I’ve experienced over the years:

Daffodils Come Back Very Small/Short

There are several reasons why daffodils grow back small:
  • Possibly because they’ve been in the same spot for years.
  • Planted too shallow.
  • Soil depleted of nutrients.
  • Overcrowded and competing for limited resources.

Daffodils Not Flowering

From my experience, this is often because of:
  • Late planting.
  • Leaves were removed too early or folded/tied last year.
  • Too much nitrogen which promotes leaf growth at the expense of the blooms.

Daffodils Growing in Winter

This is becoming normal as the winters in the UK become milder, and I’m seeing them sprout in early winter in my garden; this never happened in the past. Early growth shouldn’t be a problem for daffodils, but they can be lifted in early summer and buried deeper, up to 3 or at a push, 4 times their height in depth.

Daffodils Not Coming Up

If they don’t come up at all, this is most likely due to disease, rot, or theft by pests. Having problems with pests? The Daffodil Society has an in-depth helpful guide to dealing with every known daffodil pest.

Meet The Author: Elizabeth Smith

Elizabeth Smith has a qualification from the prestigious Merrist Woof College in Guildford and an RHS diploma in horticulture.

She specialises in several aspects of gardening, including organic techniques, disease control and garden design and management.

Elizabeth occasionally writes for us at DIY Gardening and her other roles include consulting work, reviewing our content and generally being a great resource we can rely on.

Elizabeth Smith’s Profile

Elizabeth Smith

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This daffodil growing guide was published by DIY Gardening

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