An expansive state with varying elevations and climates affected by ocean, mountain ranges and interior deserts, Californians can still enjoy daffodils (Narcissus spp.) in their late winter and spring gardens. Thousands of varieties exist, all with different flower colors, flower shapes and timing in the season regarding the month of bloom. Plant daffodils in fall to allow bulbs to send out some roots over winter and then pop up and grow by spring.
The geographic diversity of California finds many different climates, soils, rainfall regimes and temperatures. According to "Sunset Western Gardening Book," daffodils can be grown successfully in all parts of the state, and some varieties may be better suited to different regions, especially based on the amount of winter chill. California falls in the U.S. Department of Agriculture's hardiness zones 6 through 10. Using the Sunset climate zones, more specific deliniations are made among the various areas with different elevations, rainfall, temperatures and soil types. California comprises these Sunset climate zones: 1 through 3, 7 through 9, and 14 through 24. Tazetta-type daffodils are best avoided in zones 1 through 3 as are the species Narcissus cyclamineus and Narcissus bulbocodium, known as the hoop petticoat daffodil.
Daffodils are seasonal perennials, growing foliage and flowering in late winter through early summer at the latest. After their foliage ripens and yellows, thereby replenishing the energy in the bulb for next year, the plants visually disappear and endure a long dormancy over summer and fall. Choose a garden location where the plants will receive at least six hours of sunlight from January to May when they grow. The soil must be moist but well-draining during that time, too. Incorporate organic matter into sandy or clay soils to improve their texture, fertility or drainage. Till the planting area to a depth of 12 inches before planting bulbs.
When to plant the daffodil bulbs in autumn depends on your location in the state. Cooler regions, such as those in the northern counties or in higher mountainous regions can begin planting as early as mid-September and continue well into November as long as soil is workable. In more coastal areas and in the south, focus on planting in November and no later than mid-December. Follow recommendations on bulb packaging or provided to you by mail-order nurseries. Paperwhite narcissus does not need a winter cold dormancy to bloom in spring. Therefore these bulbs can be planted whenever they are available since it is a dry season that triggers them into blooming once rains return.
As a general rule, plant daffodil bulbs two to three times as deep as the bulb is tall. For bulbs that are 2 inches tall, plant them about 6 inches deep. In light, fluffier sandy soils, plant a little deeper and in heavier clay soils slightly shallower. Space bulbs 6 to 10 inches apart as they will multiply over the years to create larger clumps with many bulbs and subsequent flowers.
Daffodils grow nicely in containers with drainage holes and may be easier than planting in the ground if your garden has infertile or soggy soils or your winters aren't overly cool. Air temperatures drop lower than soil temps so an above-ground container will provide more requisite chilling of the planted bulbs, most important in southern and coastal California. Follow the same planting depths and make sure to water the container soil to keep it moist, particularly from fall to spring. In summer the soil can become much drier, but water it occasionally to keep bulbs cooler and still exposed to some moisture.