Few flowers say "spring" quite like the brightly colored daffodil (Narcissus spp.), with its long-lasting flowers that come in many cultivars. Also called a narcissus and jonquil, the daffodil grows from a bulb that usually lives for many years. After awhile, however, daffodil plants can become crowded as their bulbs multiply, or their growing conditions might become unfavorable as nearby plants grow and cast too much shade. Transplanting daffodils is simple and provides an ideal opportunity to divide a crowded planting, but it's important to transplant or divide them at the correct time and with some advance preparation.
Timing the Move
Daffodils grow from bulbs that are frost-hardy and require some chilling during winter, when they become dormant. Most kinds of daffodils are hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 3 through 9, with some variation among varieties. The bulbs are simple to dig up and transplant, but do so only when they've become dormant and stopped growing actively.
Early fall is an ideal transplanting time, when the soil is still slightly warm but below 60 degrees Fahrenheit, promoting good root growth. In the northern United States, September and October are ideal transplanting months while October and November are usually the best in southern areas. Ensure that the daffodil plants are dormant, which is signaled by yellowing of their foliage; eventually, the leaves dry entirely and the plants' tops disappear. That factor can make finding the bulbs difficult; avoid this problem by marking the site before foliage die-back happens.
Daffodil bulbs also can be dug up in spring for transplanting, but do that task very early, as soon as the ground can be worked, to avoid damaging new shoots developing below ground.
If you grow daffodils in a pot, you can transplant them into an in-ground garden as soon as their leaves yellow and they become dormant. If you must wait, let the pot's soil dry out, and then remove the bulbs from the pot. Gently brush the dry soil from the bulbs, and keep the bulbs in a paper bag in a dry spot until you're ready to replant them.
Preparing the Bulbs
Dig up daffodil bulbs by using a shovel, pushing its blade vertically into the soil just outside the planting area, then tilting it to the side and then upwards to loosen the bulbs from the soil. Use the shovel to lift the bulbs carefully. Then use your hands to pull apart groups of bulbs gently to avoid tearing the roots.
Let the soil of potted daffodils dry out. Then turn their pot on its side, and use your hand or a trowel to rap strongly on the pot's side. Tip out the soil and bulbs, remove the soil from the bulbs and separate the bulbs carefully.
Planting in a New Spot
Choose a new site that gets lots of sun exposure and has well-drained soil. Loosen the planting area's soil to a depth of about 1 foot with a garden fork or tiller. Then mix in about a 2-inch-thick layer of compost to increase the soil's organic content. Whether transplanting in fall or spring, add 5 tablespoons of a water-soluble, 10-10-10 fertilizer -- without mixing it with water -- and 2 cups of bonemeal to each 10 square feet of planting area, mixing it in well.
Dig a hole for each bulb, making each hole about three to four times as deep as its respective bulb is tall and placing the holes about 4 to 6 inches apart to avoid overcrowding. Set the bulbs with their pointed ends upward in the holes. Fill the rest of each hole with soil, and tamp the soil well. Then water the site thoroughly to get new roots off to a good start.
If winters tend to be severe where you live, cover the planting area with 3 inches of mulch or evergreen boughs to protect the bulbs from extreme cold and to prevent the soil from heaving during freeze-thaw cycles.
Each spring, repeat the fertilization regimen, mixing the fertilizer and bone meal into the top 1 inch of soil as soon as new daffodil shoots break through the soil surface.
Joanne Marie began writing professionally in 1981. Her work has appeared in health, medical and scientific publications such as Endocrinology and Journal of Cell Biology. She has also published in hobbyist offerings such as The Hobstarand The Bagpiper. Marie is a certified master gardener and has a Ph.D. in anatomy from Temple University School of Medicine.