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I'd like to plant Daffodil bulbs in a forested area visible from a kitchen window. The area in question belongs to the homeowner, has no understory (deer browse) or early season ground cover, and is canopied by oak and hickory trees of varying age. Later in the spring the area would be covered almost 100% with wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis)

Would Daffodils do OK or establish in such a setting? Why or why not?

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Daffodils would do great there, I'm pretty sure. I have some in my woods, and I didn't plant them there. They do fine because it's a deciduous woods, so no shade in late winter when they emerge, and barely any shade during flowering. Also, the undergrowth doesn't seem to be a problem unless it's taller than the daffodil plants, and leafs out before the daffys are done yellowing.

I find that daffodils will often live in even really bad conditions, but just don't spread that much. Here's a bullet list:

  • Your soil type sounds ideal.
  • The forest sounds like it has a healthy canopy, which discourages huge wild invasives, which is good for daffodils.
  • As kevinsky said, daffodils are poisonous to deer; they won't get eaten.
  • The aralia shouldn't be a problem, as the daffodils go root dormant from yellowing until late the next winter, so the aralia roots shouldn't harm them at all. A little overlap between the end of the daffs and the fist aralia growth isn't a big deal.
  • The daffodils should behave in this setting; not spread super fast and get out of hand.
  • I think of most of the spring flowering bulbs, this one is the best.

Here are some varieties that I've found to be good colonisers in that setting:

  • Ice Follies - tall, wide flower, white with pale yellow trumpet. By far the most resilient one in my area. These will grow anywhere.
  • Quail - shorter and earlier
  • Mount Hood - a trumpet daffodil. Likes more sun, plant in the bright spots
  • Tête-á-Tête - very short and early - doesn't handle much underbrush because of it's small size, but usually finishes early before other plants get going
  • Juanita - tall, yellow with orange/coral trumpet
  • Carlton - tall, all yellow. Not as big or showy as Mount Hood, but a bit more adaptable. Tolerates clay well.
  • Salome - tall, white with salmon/pink trumpet. Shade enhances trumpet color by reducing fading sun exposure.
  • Early Sensation - mid-height. Stocky. Large flowers earlier than most others. Very nice big trumpet.
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Daffodils are a good choice:

  • not eaten by deer
  • hardy over a wide range to USDA zone 4 or lower for some varieties
  • will flower and spread reliably for many years if you choose a cultivar that is strong like Mt. Hood and not one of the fancy varieties. Try species daffodils if you feel the shade happens too soon in spring.
  • up in the spring and flowering done around the time the deciduous trees leaf out
  • check the soil, they will do better in a soil with good drainage but I am growing mine in clay
  • Edit: plant deep for success. As Bamboo points out the Sarsaparilla have a thick root mass but if you can plant the daffodils beneath this then you should have some success.

but...why introduce a foreign species to an area of a unique North American groundcover? Wildflower lovers would give vital body parts to have Sarsaparilla growing in their backyard.

  • thank you for the info. I considered the native ground cover, but did not feel that the disturbance would be too great. The sarsaparilla there covers acres and grows and spreads vigorously - to the point that it must be mowed from the lawn edges each year. And all of my diggings about when I was a kid didn't seem to trouble it. Are you concerned that the Daffodils will out-compete the sarsaparilla? – That Idiot Dec 31 '14 at 13:13
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Aralia nudicaulis has creeping underground stems - those, combined with the root material from the trees, means its unlikely you'll be able to dig and plant the bulbs, and the bulbs themselves, once planted, may quickly be eradicated by root invasion.

You could try digging patches to see what the conditions in terms of roots are like - if its not too bad, then by all means plant them.

  • I know that the first 3-5" are a dense, peaty, rooty mat. Under that is well drained, sandy soil. If root intrusion is a problem for Daffodils, then this would not be the place. – That Idiot Dec 31 '14 at 13:16
  • @ThatIdiot - its no more of a problem than for any other plant which produces roots, its not particular to daffodils. Might be worth trying a small area to see how well they do before planting hundreds though. – Bamboo Jan 2 '15 at 12:09

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