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The thrill of daffodils! Follow Monty Don’s tips for how to choose and care for them

This has – so far – been a tremendously good year for daffodils. But is there ever a bad year for them? 

Well, daffodils, like any other plant, react to weather, climate and growing conditions from year to year, and this year they all seem to have come to­ge­ther to produce ideal flowering conditions. 

The daffodil season in my garden is long. The first little wild daffs in the orchard, Narcissus pseudonarcissus, appear before the end of February and remain at their very best until the end of March. 

The colder the weather, the longer they last, but for all their daintiness they are tough and will withstand snow, ice, wind and rain. These are definitely flowers for growing in grass rather than a border or a container, and their natural habitat is in dappled shade at the edge of woodland where they spill into surrounding fields. 

Monty Don has shared his advice for choosing and caring for daffodils. Pictured: Monty with his dog Nellie and some of his daffodils

There are plenty of other small, even miniature daffodils to grow that are ideal for containers. I like ‘Minnow’, ‘Hawera’ and ‘Pipit’ – all three are now looking good in terracotta pots on the table outside my potting shed and I use the lovely golden ‘Tête-à-Tête’ in pots in our various sitting areas. 

There is a huge range of daffodils to choose from. At last count there were more than 50 different species and around 13,000 different cultivars (meaning varieties that are deliberately bred rather than occurring naturally, made by conflating the words ‘cultivated’ and ‘variety’). 

ASK MONTY 

Q A friend has told me that the weed taking over my garden is Japanese knotweed – what can I do about it? 

Hilary Godfrey, South Yorkshire  

A I’m afraid there is little you can do. Japanese knotweed was introduced 150 years ago as an attractive plant, but the pests and diseases that control it in Japan are not present here. The best bet is to cut back all growth as it appears, at least twice a year, and dispose of it via council waste collection. It will regrow but weaker and less invasively.

Q I purchased a mimosa Acacia dealbata four years ago. It is 180cm tall but hasn’t yet flowered. What am I doing wrong? 

Betty Elleker, West Sussex

A I think your main fault is impatience! It is young and may take a few years more to flower. It will need as much sunshine as possible and regular watering, and do not give it nitrogen feed as this will encourage foliage at the expense of flowers.

Q My snowdrops were eaten when in full bloom, now my ‘Tête-à-tête’ daffodils are being decimated! Can you tell me what is causing this? 

Pam Cornish, West Sussex

A I’m afraid this is the work of slugs and snails, which love snowdrop and daffodil flowers. 

Write to Monty Don at Weekend, Daily Mail, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TT or email monty.don@dailymail.co.uk. Please include your full name and address. We regret Monty can’t reply to letters personally.

Their flowering forms can range from the simple hanging trumpet with downturned petals to the crazy dandelion starburst of N. ‘Rip van Winkle’. I have ‘Thalia’, which grows by the hundreds in my Writing Garden and is white with a lovely cream trumpet, whereas there are quite a few varieties with deep orange trumpets and deep yellow petals. 

Daffodils can be highly scented. There are many of these to choose from but I’m very fond of ‘Actaea’ and ‘Geranium’, both of which have delicate yellow trumpets and white petals and are long-lasting in the ground or in a vase. When you cut daffodils they’ll last longer if you leave the stems in shallow, tepid water for a couple of hours in a dark room before arranging them. 

No matter which of the many cultivars of daffodil you grow, certain basic techniques are required for all of them if they are to flower and thrive. The first is to plant early and deep – ideally in September and preferably no later than the end of October. 

Aim to plant at twice the depth of the bulb. This will result in longer, stronger stems and will mean they are less likely to dry out. 

Water the bulbs well in autumn even though you cannot see them yet because this is when they start to grow. Do not, however, let them become sodden. 

Good drainage is essential. One of the biggest causes of daffodils being ‘blind’ – i.e. growing foliage but no flower stems – is lack of moisture in autumn. 

Never cut the foliage back but let it die down naturally. This will take at least two months after flowering, so if you’re planting into grass, accept that the grass around them will need to be unmown until the middle of June at the earliest. 

If you’re growing daffodils in containers, remove the seed heads because this takes energy from the developing bulb that contains next year’s flowers. However, in grass they will spread by seed, so leave them on. 

If you find that established daffodils growing in grass are becoming increasingly blind, they may well need dividing. Lift the clumps either immediately after flowering or in September, divide them and replant, watering them in well.

MONTY’S PLANT OF THE WEEK: TIARELLA CORDIFOLIA

Monty said T. cordifola (pictured) thrives in rich, slightly damp soil in cool shade and beneath shrubs, under trees, against an east or north-facing wall

Monty said T. cordifola (pictured) thrives in rich, slightly damp soil in cool shade and beneath shrubs, under trees, against an east or north-facing wall

Modest but with real charm, T. cordifolia has spikes of foamy white flowers rising from heart-shaped, patterned foliage. It is very useful as part of the tapestry of flowers such as dicentra, hosta and Solomon’s seal that look superb in a shady border in spring. 

A member of the saxifrage family, it thrives in rich, slightly damp soil in cool shade and beneath shrubs, under trees, or against an east or north-facing wall. ‘Spring Symphony’ is an exceptionally good cultivar, with a mass of dainty flower spikes about 23cm tall.

THIS WEEK’S JOB: PLANT SWEET PEAS 

Now is the time to plant out sweet pea seedlings. They grow best in rich soil with plenty of moisture and in cool conditions. 

Any support will do, from bean sticks to bamboo canes to chicken wire. I plant two or three to each support and water them in well before mulching thickly.

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