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yellow daffodils spread out to fill a hillside

All About Naturalizing Daffodils

The daffodil is an especially rewarding bulb because once planted, there’s little to no work involved for the gardener, yet they can thrive and will multiply for decades. Many of the older tried and tested cultivars of daffodils can bloom for at least 30 years, and even up to 50 years when left to their own devices.

Daffodils are lovely in beds and borders, but when allowed to flourish beyond traditional boundaries, they can highlight the nature that is already there, and will even benefit your property ecologically.

Perennial Daffodils Make Naturalizing Easy

A naturalized plant is one growing wild in a region where it is not indigenous. Naturalizing is a technique used by gardeners and landscapers to establish plants outside of typical garden beds, encouraging them to multiply and spread. 

As long as you have a site with decent drainage, that does not need to be mowed until summer, and receives full sun (6+ hours) in spring, you have a good place to naturalize daffodils. Remember, areas that are shaded by trees in summer, may receive full sun in spring.

Is there a part of your property that’s difficult to garden due to a slope, trees, or rocks? Do you have little space or time for gardening, but crave early spring color to brighten your yard? Are you the kind of gardener who leans more towards natural and relaxed than formal and manicured? If you’ve answered yes to any of these questions, daffodils are for you!

If you’ve ever visited an abandoned homestead or farmhouse in spring, and marveled at the flowers left behind by long past residents, you have experienced the lasting beauty and charm of naturalized bulbs.

Tips For Naturalizing Daffodils Beyond Boundaries

Naturalizing daffodils is a forgiving and useful tool of landscaping and ecological gardening, a way for home gardeners to experiment with designs inspired by nature.

  • Daffodils can grow in just about any soil as long as it is well-drained and not too compacted.
  • Daffodils need sun, but other than that, they need little maintenance.
  • Gently sloping fields, meadows, or forest edges are ideal for naturalizing bulbs like daffodils. Early-blooming cultivars of daffodils can be planted at the edge of the woods, where they will receive enough sun to ripen foliage before most trees leaf out.
  • Be sure to keep free-range chickens or ducks away from where daffodils grow, so that they don't eat the bulbs, flowers, or foliage, as it is toxic if eaten by animals.
  • Daffodil bulbs can tolerate some crowding, especially in natural areas outside garden beds, but they do best when they are spaced 3-6 inches apart.
  • Remember, nature works in curves rather than rows, and naturalizing is a casual affair. To keep the end result informal, plant bulbs in irregular clumps and drifts of similar colors. A pleasingly relaxed effect can be achieved by tossing bulbs one handful at a time, and planting each bulb where it happens to land.
  • If planted in a lawn, mowing will need to be delayed wherever daffodils are naturalized. It's best to leave the foliage until it turns brown, so that the bulbs can "recharge" for the next season.
  • Planting naturalized daffodils in clusters and swaths not only creates a more natural look, but this will make it possible to mow around the plants in the late spring if needed.

How To Plant Daffodils

  1. Plant daffodils in the fall about 2-4 weeks before the ground freezes.
  2. Before planting in a grassy area, lower the mower for the last mowing of the fall to give the bulbs maximum access to sun and warmth when they will need it in early spring.
  3. Use a bulb planting tool, a trowel, a tire iron, a crowbar, or an electric drill to make holes for each bulb in the soil or sod. Each hole should be at least 8 inches deep (approximately three times the height of the bulb.) In general, daffodils require deeper planting than other bulbs, and when planting bulbs in a natural area to be left undisturbed for several years, it is recommended that each bulb is planted even deeper than would be necessary for a garden bed.
  4. Free the soil in each hole and add some compost or soil amendment, then some sand and/or soil, and, finally, the bulb.
  5. Place bulb so that the pointy end is up, and cover the bulb with sand or soil before closing the hole or replacing the sod. Exactness is not crucial, daffodils are not fussy plants. But planting deeply and adding some soil amendment to each hole can help daffodils thrive for years.
Daffodils and Tulips look beautiful together in a mixed planting. For easy gardening, plant perennial tulip varieites with Daffodils: Darwin Hybrid, Emperor, or Wildflower Tulips.
Daffodils and Tulips look beautiful together in a mixed planting. For easy gardening, plant perennial tulip varieites with Daffodils: Darwin Hybrid, Emperor, or Wildflower Tulips.

Best Daffodils For Naturalizing

Any type of daffodil can be naturalized. When mixing with surrounding plants, the smaller varieties may be better. Many species of daffodil thrive with little care when naturalized. American Meadows carries more than 30 varieties of Daffodil, including these best known for naturalizing:

These especially popular varieties are known to naturalize well because they form drifts and can make seeds and baby bulbs. The Farmer’s Almanac also has a detailed and comprehensive list of the best bulbs for naturalizing.

For the longest season of blooms, consider mixing early, mid, and later blooming species when you naturalize. When shopping for bulbs, use our filters to sort bulbs by bloom time.

  • Earlier blooming species include Cassata Daffodil, Dutch Master Trumpet Daffodil, Tete-a-Tete Miniature Daffodil, and more.
  • Mid-season bloomers include Art Design Double Daffodil, Thalia Daffodil, Tahiti Double Daffodil, and others.
  • Later varieties include The Poet's Daffodil Actaea, Sorbet Daffodil, Petit Four Double Daffodil, and more.

Daffodil Flower Bulbs

Tree Guilds: Naturalizing Daffodils With Trees

Trees and shrubs can provide an ideal backdrop for the daffodil flower. Daffodils also have several qualities that make them ideal companions for most deciduous tree and shrub species. 

A tree guild is a small community of plants that encircles a tree to provide a relatively self-sufficient support system. Each plant in the guild has a role, such as fertilizing, attracting beneficial insects, providing a mulch source, or repelling pests. Planting a tree guild that includes early blooming cultivars of daffodils adds welcome spring color and helps keep most trees healthier year-round. 

There’s no set recipe for making a tree guild, because so much in gardening depends on location, climate, and the time each gardener is able to devote. However, most deciduous trees, including fruit and nut trees, will benefit more from a guild of living perennial plants than by a stark circle of mulch that must be replaced each spring.

For example, an apple tree guild might include a mixture of spring-blooming bulbs to attract spring pollinators that aid the tree with fruit set; chives to repel pests; bee balm or yarrow to attract summer pollinators; borage to accumulate nutrients and tap into trace minerals, making them available for the guild; rhubarb for on-site mulch; and echinacea to attract butterflies.

A tree guild works best with a variety of plants that will flower at different times during the growing season and are hardy for your zone. Choosing flower bulbs and perennial native plants with deep root systems will help provide balance in the guild.

There are several ways Daffodils contribute to healthier trees. Planting daffodils around the trunk of the tree will discourage pests that chew bark and dig, such as gophers and squirrels. Planting outside the drip line (the area beneath the tree’s outermost leaves at full size) will help to repel deer and other browsers.

Also, daffodils and many other spring-blooming bulbs, suppress turf grasses and their shallow roots from moving into the guild. This helps trees, as the shallow roots of turf grasses compete for the same surface nutrients that are important for the tree. For example, an apple’s principal feeding roots are near the surface, where the most nutrients reside.

A note about evergreens: While daffodils can offer a nice contrast to evergreen tree trunks, they should be planted some distance away from the base; daffodils cannot tolerate the poor drainage created by spring shade and the constant dripping of evergreen foliage when the weather is wet.

Naturailzing Daffodils With Vegetables

Flowers add beauty and interest to a vegetable garden, and they can be beneficial to your harvest. With their ability to prevent soil erosion and high level of nutrient storage, daffodils are no exception. Plant daffodils along the borders of vegetable beds to fend off animals that might snack on your plants. The above-ground flowers and foliage of daffodils discourage deer and other browsers, and the below-ground bulbs discourage gophers, rabbits, groundhogs, and other diggers.

Vegetable garden tip: Daffodils can cause stomach upset, and some people have mistaken daffodils for onions, so we recommend planting onions and their relatives away from daffodils so that there is no chance for mistaken identity. Onions and Alliums are also unappetizing to critters, so they can serve as a line of defense in the garden as well.

What's In A Name? Daffodils & Their History

Though these spring-blooming bulbs are referred to widely as daffodils, they are all technically of the Narcissus genus. Daffodil is typically used as a common and collective name for all of the plants in the genus, and is most often used to describe the larger-flowered types.

Jonquil is a name sometimes used for this group, but this name actually only applies to a very small subgroup, Narcissus jonquilla, and related hybrids. According to the American Daffodil Society, Jonquils typically have several small, fragrant flowers on each stem with flat petals and foliage that is narrow and reed-like.

The genus name Narcissus is derived from Greek mythology. The story goes that a vain young man named Narcissus fell in love with his own reflection, and drowned in a pond as he tried to embrace himself. It is said that the narcissus plant first established itself where he perished.

Like all cultivated flowers, daffodils originated as wildflowers. The wild narcissus came originally from southern Europe. The genus Narcissus is divided into 13 divisions, each defined by foliage, flower color, and form. Twelve include the cultivated forms, the thirteenth form describes wild species and hybrids.