Plant daffodils now for a springtime of color

They're easy to plant, come back year after year, and deer rarely eat them.

By , Chicago Tribune/AP

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    Daffodils are one of the most cheerful sign of spring. But they have to be planted in fall.
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Here's the thing about daffodils: They're a no-brainer. They're easy to plant. They grow anywhere. Hundreds of varieties are readily available. They return year after year.

As we said, a no-brainer.

"I think that one of the first things people think about with fall planting is daffodils," says Barb Pierson, nursery manager for White Flower Farm in Connecticut, which has more than 70 varieties for sale. "Once you plant the daffodil, that's it. That makes them attractive from the get-go because they're easy."

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Sally Ferguson, director of the Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center/North America in Vermont, agrees: "Dig a hole, put 'em in, cover 'em up, and you walk away. How tough is that?"

And there's always the surprise factor. You stick a bunch of nondescript bulbs in the ground. Come spring, your lawn or flower bed is flashing colors you've never seen before. To be honest, many of us forget where we planted the daffodils — or that we even planted some — making the surprise even bigger.

For daffodil (Narcissus) enthusiasts, now's the time. Garden centers and nursery catalogs are brimming over with all types of daffs.

Varieties that have been around for years, such as King Alfred and Dutch Master, for example, still sell, but new varieties are on shopping lists too.

"People always want the interesting and the new," Ms. Pierson says.

Two new varieties from White Flower Farm are Best Seller and Galactic Star. The former has a light yellow cup with light yellow petals that fade to white as they mature.

Galactic Star is a trumpet daffodil that starts out "a chartreuse color and turns to a yellowy color, and then they turn white," Pierson says. "The great thing is, it looks very similar to other trumpets, but it's fragrant. I just think fragrance is so great."

At Brent & Becky's Bulbs in Virginia, third-generation bulb grower Brent Heath has hundreds of daffodils available. ("I read an article that said we had 240. I thought there was more than that. ... I haven't counted recently.") And more than 20 are new varieties this fall.

One he seems excited about is Full Throttle, an orange trumpet daffodil with white petals. "It's a creamy white, but it's a big wide trumpet. It's a big sucker," he says.

Another newcomer among the trumpet types is Trumpet Warrior, a reversed bicolor with the flower a soft yellow and the trumpet white (actually a sort of very pale yellow). "It gives the effect of the flower being two-toned."

The large-cup group has several notable new varieties. Amadeus Mozart has a bright tangerine orange cup; Bella Vista, with a pleated bright orange-red cup, stands up to bright sunlight; Fellows Favorite is a long-lasting flower that's a soft, lemony yellow, and Yellow Salome is a sport, a mutation of a white and pink cup daffodil that's all yellow and is a late-season bloomer.

Other new varieties worth noting are Angel (small cup), Double Fun, Snowball and Wave (doubles), Maria (cyclamineus), Lieke, and Milk and Honey (jonquilla).

Of course, sometimes, what's old is new again. Pierson appreciates new varieties, but she still loves what she calls the classics, "things that if you don't have some, you should."

"A lot of the plants that have been around in your grandmother's garden ... are there for a reason," Pierson says. "They're easy to take care of, they can grow for years and years and years without ever having to do anything.

"Heirloom varieties are really in. People are trying to revive old gardens, and they go back to some of the old varieties because they're disease-resistant. If you want to grow organically, what's better than something that's easy-care and will last a long time?"

Planting tips and more

The American Daffodil Society provides a bounty of information on its website.

For all their variety and beauty, and the fact that they herald the end of winter and the rebirth of our flower beds every spring, there's another big reason that gardeners love daffodils.

"Daffodils are, No. 1, deer-proof, which in many areas of the country is a big problem," says Pierson.

No plant is totally safe from deer. If they're hungry enough and other sources of food (they love tulips and hostas, among other plants) have been exhausted, those daffodils can get snapped up.

But they aren't appetizing because of the alkaloid chemicals present, and critters generally avoid them.

"There's, how do I say, a retch factor with daffodils when animals come to nibble on them," Ms. Ferguson says. "They don't want them. They won't eat them. They smell bad. Animals have a sense of what's unpleasant."

Mice, voles, squirrels — "all the animals that are bothersome in the garden," according to Ferguson — likewise steer clear of daffodils.

There are also additional plants that deer and other animals find unappetizing, among them iris, bleeding heart, marigold, holly, zinnia, coneflower, boxwood and snapdragons. But daffodils top the menu.

"It's really disappointing when you plant something and you see squirrels have dug it up within hours," Ferguson says. "That happens with tulips, but it'll never happen with daffodils."

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