March Plant of the Month: Narcissus

Narcissi, the singular form of Narcissus, have such perky, yellow blooms, it’s no wonder it’s everyone’s favorite spring flower! These true bulbs are members of the Amarylis family, and although they are not native to the United States, they are scattered all over Europe, northern parts of Africa and western parts of Asia and the Mediterranean.

Some gardeners are a bit perplexed by the name Narcissus. These beautiful flowers are commonly called daffodils. So are they the same thing or not? A daffodil is a narcissus with a trumpet that is as long or longer than the surrounding petals. So I guess it would be correct to say that all daffodils are narcissus but not all narcissus are daffodils!

Narcissus come in all shapes and sizes. In fact, there are thirteen unique classifications of these flowers! They include trumpet or long cup, large cup, small cup, double, triandrus, cyclamineus, jonquilla, tazetta, poeticus, split corona, bulbocodium, miniature, and miscellaneous, which are the ones that don’t fit into any of the other categories.

Greek mythology tells us how Narcissus came into existence. There was a mountain nymph named Echo who fell in love with a gorgeous young man named Narcissus. Narcissus was quite vain and cared only for his own looks. He spent his days gazing at his own reflection in a pool of water and paid no attention to Echo. Echo eventually faded away, except for her voice. The gods were angry with Narcissus because he was so vain, so they changed him into a flower who would always be nodding over the edge of a pool of water, staring at his own reflection.

Besides being beautiful to look at, Narcissus are also quite easy to grow. They enjoy full sun to half a day of sun, but will also do fine in some shade. The one thing they do not like is standing water so keep that in mind when you plant them. Allow the foliage to die back naturally after flowering ends. If you cut or tie the foliage, you deprive the bulb of the chance to photosynthesize enough food to store for next spring. If you cut all the foliage off early, you may end up killing the bulb. After the flowers have bloomed, you can top dress them with a 5-10-5 fertilizer. You can plant early, mid, and late season varieties to extend the flowering time for many months.

On a final note, many Narcissus will naturalize. That means the bulbs increase each year by adding what are called bulblets, or baby bulbs that grow from the base of a larger bulb. In a few years, you may have many, many more flowers without planting more bulbs or spending another dime. Now that’s the gift that keeps on giving!! Happy Sustainable Gardening!