Daffodils are heading south

Not far from this southern Georgia town, on the once-impoverished cotton plantations that became Callaway Gardens, is a particularly beautiful area called Meadowlark Gardens.

Some 75 acres of woods are host to camelias, more than 500 varieties of holly , and in the spring, daffodils by the thousands - white, cream, canary yellow, and various shades of gold and orange with many bicolors among them.

Like every floral display here at Callaway, the daffodils present a spectacularly beautiful sight when at their peak. But they were set out three years ago with far more than their display qualities in mind. They formed part of a daffodil evaluation study, undertaken by Dr. William E. Barrick, director of gardens here, in conjunction with North Carolina State University and the Netherlands Bulb Council. The purpose of the study was to find out which of the daffodil varieties would naturalize most readily in the South.

Dutch bulbs grow and flower well the first season in the South, but frequently bulb regeneration for the second flowering season is poor to nonexistent. As a result, many Dutch bulbs, tulips in particular, are grown only as annuals in regions this far south. But certain daffodil varieties have shown an ability to adapt to the hot Southern summers and become naturalized. These were put to the test here at Meadowlark and at various test sites in the Carolinas.

Bulbs were set out in the fall of 1981 and have consequently had three flowering seasons in which to be evaluated. Those successful varieties all had a 95 percent or better reflowering over the three-year test period.

All the data from the various test sites have not yet been tabulated, but those to succeed in the Callaway study are: Dutch Master, Unsurpassable, and Golden Harvest (all trumpet narcissus flower types); Flower Record, Fortune, Yellow Sun, Mrs. R. O. Backhouse, and Ice Follies (large cupped narcissus); Yellow Cheerfulness, Texas, Dick Wilder, and Bridal Crown (double narcissus); Tete-a-tete, Jack Snipe, Peeping Tom, and February Gold (Narcissus cyclamineus - small flowered with reflexed petals); Baby Moon and Trevithian (Narcissus Jonquilla - small, clustered, fragrant flower); Geranium (Narcissus Tazetta - multiflowered with small to medium flowers).

After flowering is over, daffodil bulbs divide and begin storing energy for the following season. This period continues until the leaves die back. In this way, a single naturalized daffodil becomes a clump and finally ''a host of golden daffodils,'' to quote Wordsworth.

According to Dr. Barrick, the Callaway approach to planting daffodils involves tilling the soil to a depth of 12 inches. Bone meal is then incorporated into the soil. ''Holland bulb booster'' is a commercial fertilizer specially formulated for bulbs and can be substituted for bone meal, says Dr. Barrick.

Bulbs are planted 4 inches deep (in the colder North 6 to 8 inches is the preferred depth). At the spring blooming period, a complete fertilizer is sprinkled around each plant to boost the leaves and help them store as much energy as possible in the next generation of bulbs.

In home gardens, Dr. Barrick suggests that a 1- to 2-inch mulch of shredded leaves be retained permanently on the bulb bed, both to keep up the supply of organic matter to the soil and to moderate soil temperatures.

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