Daffodils and spring go hand in hand, but the daffs in my patch started blooming in early August (that’s late winter in the southern hemisphere). I don’t know the variety – they were here when I moved in – but the small delicate blooms are a mere 3cm wide, with eight flowers per stalk. Each has a wreath of creamy white petals which surround a pale yellow cup. If you get down to their level outdoors (they stand about 40cm high) you get a strong whiff of perfume. Indoors the fragrance hits you between the eyes as soon as you walk in the door.
When picking daffs, pinch the stems off at ground level rather than snipping them off with secateurs – unless you’re prepared to scrub your blades clean after each cut. Expert growers recommend you sterilise secateurs between each cut to avoid spreading viral diseases, which daffs are prone to. It’s a darn sight easier to pinch the stems off with your fingers than to dip your blades in bleach after each snip anyway.
Watch out for the white sap that oozes from daffodil stems once picked though. This sticky substance is an irritant that can cause a rash known as ‘daffodil pickers rash’. Wear gloves when picking, and hold the stems with the flowers pointing down.
If animals consume daffodil sap, it will induce vomiting. If large quantities are ingested, it could be deadly. The same goes for humans. You might think we’re too intelligent to eat daffodils, but some people have actually mistaken them for onions.
If you want to include daffodils in a mixed bouquet, you’ll need to condition them first. Their sap is toxic to other flowers and will clog their stems and prevent them taking up water. Place cut daffodils in a vase with 3cm of cool water. Add a smidgeon of sugar if you like, or floral preservative. After a few hours the daffodils will have slurped up all the water. Rinse the vase and add fresh water. After 6-8 hours, you can then place your daffs in a vase with other flowers. Change the water daily and add floral preservative to give your bouquet a much longer life.
If you were showing your daffodils, you might go through the rigmarole of grooming them (this is done before conditioning). Daffodils are apparently trainable, and professionals have learnt tricks to achieve perfect symmetry. If you hold a daffodil between a circle made by your thumb and index finger, with the stem hanging downward, you can straighten wayward petals with a constant light pressure with your fingers, as if ironing the petals. You can ‘clock’ the flowersheads too, so that the top petal is at 12 o’clock and the bottom one is at 6 o’clock. A gentle twist on the head, either clockwise or counter clockwise will do the trick. If the cup is anything but round, you can gently squeeze it with your fingers so that it takes on the perfect shape.
The question that pops up every year – should you cut, braid or leave yellowing daffodil leaves alone after flowering? The answer is simple. If you want flowers the following year, leave them alone. Let the leaves rot down naturally – even after they’ve flopped over they still absorb sunlight and nutrients to store in their bulbs. If you cut or braid them, that can’t happen. You can remove the flower stems, though. In fact, it’s the perfect excuse to bring them indoors.