From Maryland to Minnesota
When I first came to Minnesota from Maryland, it was only for summers. I bought a tiny cottage, on a small lot smothered in evergreens and oak trees, and planted some of my favorite flowers, daffodils, before I closed up in September and returned to Maryland. I thought, “Great! I can enjoy my daffodils in Maryland in April, then enjoy more of them in Minnesota in May!” Of course, I planted whatever the local nurseries sold — after all, you only need to stick them in the ground with a bit of bonemeal beneath and be ready to divide them in a few years, right? That's how I had done it in Maryland for almost fifty years.
Well, that year the Autumn was very dry, plus I had planted most of the bulbs at the edges of an ancient raised brick planter in front of the east-facing cottage. The deep overhanging eaves kept most of the rain that fell from reaching the planter, except where a hole in the gutter let some water through.
Guess what? Some daffodils didn't even come up — I never had that problem before. Of course, in Maryland it seldom gets below ten degrees for any great length of time, and I also had all my flower beds there out in full sun at ground level. And I didn't know that the tazettas (Division 8) and some doubles (Division 4) weren't too happy in Minnesota - after all, the nurseries were selling them!
So-o-o ... the next May, I arrived to find a few Ice Follies 2W-W and Dutch Masters 1Y-Y timidly raising their heads above the winter's drifted leaves, but that was about it. A few other varieties bravely put up one or two blooms but without much enthusiasm. Rather puzzled, I concentrated on making new perennial flower beds that summer, out in what sun I had on my heavily shaded lot. And I gradually removed just about all of the evergreen trees that were ready to attack the house.
The following spring, my daffodils made hardly any showing at all. Of course, the ones back in Maryland had knocked themselves out, as usual. So in the Autumn I made a new flower bed in a somewhat sunnier spot near one of my huge burr oak trees and moved what I could find of the Minnesota daffodils, to sojourn with some Northern Lights azaleas. I bought about 200 more bulbs from various sources, some local and some mail-order, and planted some with my little runty leftovers by the oak tree. Others went into one of the new flower beds that got sun most of the day.
But the dear little miniatures that I love so much were planted at the edge of my raised stone herb garden! They would be so pretty there! Duh — you'd think by then I'd have a clue! I never saw them again, except for a few that were far enough back from the edge to survive. And, of course, I still wasn't around in the fall to water, but I did put on some mulch before I left for the winter, so I had a few more flowers to greet me the next spring. Things were looking up!
I had joined the Daffodil Society of Minnesota after attending their annual flower show and so I knew it was possible to grow good daffodils in Minnesota. I just needed to learn some new tricks!
Having wearied of the 1200-mile trek between Maryland and Minnesota, I doubled the size of my cottage over the winter and moved west for good in the Spring, bringing some of my favorite Maryland daffodils along. I made another flower bed that included a small pagoda dogwood, three small red-twigged dogwoods and a tiny fir tree (the only evergreen tree left from the seven there when I bought the cottage). The nearby oak trees did let in some sun during part of the day. I set in some of my Maryland imports to finish growing there, and planted the rest in a flower bed in the sun, with roses and perennials. The daffodils in the dogwood bed still had to contend with the dense root systems of the dogwoods, so I later moved most of those bulbs to the outer edges of the bed.
That fall, I added more bulbs from the DSM bulb exchange, mainly in the sunny rose bed, and am still looking for places to successfully grow even more varieties. (Daffodil-growing is really addictive for some of us!) Each year, at our annual flower show or in a catalogue, I see still more varieties I simply must try, but until I can find a way to fit a greenhouse into the overall plan, I will forego tazettas (Division 8) and some other daffodils (Division 10 and wild species) that just don't like it here.
I have found over the past six years that my daffodils consistently do best in the rose bed, even though it is next to the street and driveway and gets a lot of salt spray from snow plows. Next best is the dogwood bed, which receives morning sun. The azalea bed is unpredictable - there is less sun there and the big oak probably sucks up a lot of moisture in the spring when the daffodils need it too! As I said before, daffodils in the raised herb bed thrive only when well back from the cold stone edge. I have mixed success with some bulbs planted in groundcover along a rather dry sunny slope.
I also am experimenting with a completely raised bed built according to directions furnished by Brent and Becky Heath (well-known daffodil growers) in a recent issue of Garden Gate magazine. I laid down two inches of 3/4-inch granite gravel in a fairly sunny spot, then six inches of compost, set the bulbs in place and surrounded them with another two inches of gravel, then topped it all with four inches of coarse sand. The whole bed got a 4-inch mulch blanket later, half of which will be pulled away when shoots emerge in the spring. All of my daffodil bulbs are set well into the center of this mound and especially away from the four-inch stone edge I had to install to keep all that gravel in place! There are irises and alpine strawberries along the front edge of the bed. It will be interesting to see how well the daffodils do in such a setting — I guarantee they won't suffer from lack of drainage!
Some of the things I have learned about growing daffodils in zone 4 are, first of all, make sure to water really well through the fall unless nature does it for you. Daffodils have only a short time to make good root growth before the ground freezes, and that growth is crucial to their survival (See Science of Daffodil Hardiness). Second, give them lots of mulch for protection against repeated thawing and freezing in our unpredictable Minnesota winters, and then remove it when the ground thaws and new leaves begin to appear in the spring. That lets the sun get to the soil surface and warm it sooner. Try not to plant daffodils too close to dense tree roots. And, third, never plant your daffodil bulbs within a foot of the edge of any raised planter bed, either wood or stone. The winter sunlight heats up the stones and surrounding soil; then the cold returns and zaps the bulbs who thought Spring had returned early! Finally, check our website for varieties that do well in Minnesota. Don't be fooled into thinking “If it's sold here, it will grow here!”
Many happy daffodils to all!