Hello, Yellow! An Ohio Gardener Shares His Daffodil Tips
A move to a daffodil-crazed town spurs one gardener’s passion for these easy, deer-proof harbingers of spring.
Donald Hunter has always loved gardening, but it wasn't until he moved to Granville, Ohio, in 2006 that he serendipitously discovered daffodils. Blame it on an invitation to join the Granville Garden Club. "I didn't know they were so into daffodils at the time because it was the summer," Donald recalls. The following April, he attended his first Granville Daffodil Show and Sale, an extravaganza that the club has hosted for more than 75 years, most recently at the perfectly butter-colored Bryn Du Mansion. "Before, I'd only seen the giant yellow ones," he says. "So when I walked in the door, I was overwhelmed by all the different varieties, different sizes, different colors and even little details that look hand-painted."
Back home at his overgrown 3-acre property, Donald cleared weeds and brush to uncover his own patches of daffodils. He found frilly coral 'Hungarian Rhapsody', orange-cupped 'Ambergate' and other prized heirloom varieties planted by the previous owner. Evidently, she was a longtime club member and filled her lawn with bulbs from the annual sale just like so many other Granville residents.
Large-cupped white 'Mount Hood' and double-flowered 'Grebe' daffodils blanket a south-facing slope at Donald Hunter's Ohio home. "They get a lot of sun before the trees leaf out," he explains.
"That first year, I was so smitten I ordered 15 to 20 varieties," Donald says. Today, his collection numbers 43 varieties, mixed in perennial beds, tucked in containers and naturalized in drifts. He says he likes to take a walk each morning to see what's popped before his commute to Columbus to work as an IT manager: "It's worlds away from what I do for a living." His private weeks-long daffodil parade steps off in March with mini 'Tete-a-Tetes'. In April, 'Bravoure' and 'Golden Echo' reveal their trumpets, followed by rose-like 'Cheerfulness' and showy split-cup 'Mondragons'. "It's become an obsession," Donald confesses—and one he's happy to share.
Dream now, then file this guide for planting bulbs in fall—when the ground has cooled but not frozen.
PICK A SPOT Daffodils prefer sunny, well-drained soil. Raised beds or hillsides are ideal. (Conveniently, the flowers are both deer- and squirrel-resistant.) You can place early-bloomers under deciduous trees, since light filters through the bare limbs in spring, but avoid evergreens.
PLACE THE BULBS Resist the urge to space bulbs in neat, even rows, no matter what the label says. Instead, for more wow, plant bulbs in clusters of five to seven. To create a natural look in larger areas, simply scatter bulbs on the ground and plant where they land— even if some touch.
DIG IN Grab a trowel. You're aiming for holes that are twice as deep as the bulbs are tall. (For example, dig a 4-inch hole for a 2-inch bulb.) Place bulbs pointed ends up, then dress them with a tablespoon of bone meal to fuel growth. Cover with soil and gently tamp it down with your foot.
LET THEM REFUEL Daffodils come early— and they fade early too. Don't clip the leaves too soon! The plants need six to eight weeks after flowering to keep storing food for next season. To hide droopy foliage, pair daffodils with plants like hostas and daylilies, whose leaves emerge just as the daffodils pass.
KEEP THEM HAPPY Over time, if daffodils stop blooming, they may need a balanced fertilizer, a move to a sunnier location, or to be divided and replanted.
Donald's 1920s home was built as a honeymoon cottage—complete with heart-shape hardware. He added clipped boxwood hedges to provide landscape structure and uses royal blue as a playful accent color throughout the property.
Donald chose the 'Hawaiian Skies' variety above as a reminder of past vacations. "By planting them in the woods, I don't have to worry about withering foliage," he says. To create a naturalized look, plant bulbs in large clusters. They'll multiply. Every three years, divide and replant bulbs to form large drifts or rivers of blooms.
Donald likes to try new-to-him varieties in containers. Above, he mixed pansies, 'White Pearl' hellebores, variegated ivy, a Forever Goldy arborvitae, and 'Limbo' large-cup daffodils. To assemble a combo like this, plant the bulbs in a container in fall. Place it in an unheated garage until shoots begin to emerge in early spring. Then add the other plants.
Pros organize daffodils into 13 divisions based largely on shape and size. For a display that lasts all spring, aim for a mix of bloom times. Donald's favorite mail-order sources are Brent and Becky's, John Scheepers, and McClure and Zimmerman. The American Daffodil Society lists growing tips and directories of display gardens and shows at daffodilusa.org. For help ID'ing daffodils in your yard, check out daffseek.org.
1 'MODERN ART' Large cup, Div. 2 Soft overlapping petals with ruffled tangerine orange cups. Mid- to late spring; 14–16 inches.
2 'PACIFIC RIM' Large cup, Div. 2 Named for its striking center, rimmed in orange-red. Mid- to late spring; 14–18 inches.
3 'BRAVOURE' Trumpet, Div. 1 An excellent cut flower. Mid-spring; 18–24 inches.
4 'ICE WINGS' Triandrus or pendant, Div. 5 Stems sport two or three flowers. Mid- to late spring; 10–12 inches.
5 'GREBE' Double, Div. 4 Tiers of yellow petals surround an orange-tipped center. Early to mid-spring; 26 inches.
6 'GRANVILLE BEAUTY' Large cup, Div. 2 Bold, reddish-pink, funnel-like cups with wavy edges. Mid-spring; 13 inches.
7 'BARRETT BROWNING' Small cup, Div. 3 One of the earliest white daffodils, with a red-orange center. Early to mid-spring; 14–16 inches.
8, 10 'CHEERFULNESS' Double, Div. 4 A fragrant award-winner with a rose-like center, available in white or yellow. Mid- to late spring; 14–16 inches.
9 'AMBERGATE' Large cup, Div. 2 Copper-orange petals with a darker cup. Mid- to late spring; 14–16 inches.
11 'MONDRAGON' Split cup, Div. 11 Greenish-yellow petals with a flamboyant, frilly orange cup. Mid- to late spring; 20–24 inches.
12 'HUNGARIAN RHAPSODY' Split cup, Div. 11a A split-cup with white outer petals and a rustic orange and yellow center. Mid- to late spring; 15-20 inches.
13 'RED DEVON' Large cup, Div. 2 An award-winning British heirloom. Early to midspring; 16 inches.
14 'GOLDEN CHORD' Trumpet, Div. 1 A large and less common heirloom variety. Midspring; 12–26 inches.
15 'GOLDEN ECHO' Jonquil, Div. 7 Aromatic golden yellow cups melt into creamy white petals. Mid-spring; 12–16 inches.
16 'HAWAIIAN SKIES' Large cup, Div. 2 Long-lasting flowers with strong stems. Mid-spring; 12–16 inches.
17 'SWEET LOVE' Jonquil, Div. 7 A sweetly fragrant and vigorous grower. Mid-spring; 12–16 inches.
ROAD TRIP See—and order—many of these varieties at the free Granville Daffodil Show (April 17–18, pending health considerations). Home to Denison University, Granville is east of Columbus. Stay at the Buxton or Granville inns, and take a walking tour of the village's many daffodil plantings.