BULB GROWING Daffodils will bring smiles, grower says

In 10 years of growing daffodils, this gardener has 600 plants and 30 kinds.
NEWPORT NEWS, Va. -- Melanie Paul wishes more people planted daffodils.
She favors the flowers because they are easy to keep blooming year after year. In addition, bugs, disease, voles, deer and squirrels rarely bother the bulbs.
"I have had a 'love affair' with these flowers for many years," she says.
"I prefer yellow daffodils because they look so much like spring.
"They make you smile."
She says she imagines streets lined with the buttercup-yellow flowers, each waving a cheerful hello to spring's arrival.
Her infatuation with daffodils started when she planted Ice Follies on one side of her house almost 10 years ago.
The Ice Follies -- midspring daffodils with creamy white petals and a sunny-yellow cup that matures to pure white -- are still there, multiplying and returning each year. Those flowers now have lots of additional company, more than 600 daffodils that represent 30 types.
Paul's daffodils have names as entertaining as their colors and form.
There's the small daffodil called Jetfire with a wind-blown face that looks like it's standing in front a fan. Yellow petals, each barely the size of your fingernail, surround its red-orange cup.
The larger Fruit Cup is a white and pale yellow hybrid with a scent that reminds your nose of something sweet.
The daffodil known as Kissproof looks as if crimson-colored lipstick planted a smooch on its flat yellow cup.
Prize winner
Three years ago, the Hampton, Va., gardener impulsively entered the daffodil show held in conjunction with the annual Daffodil Festival in Gloucester, Va., and walked away with three blue ribbons. Last year, she won one yellow and two red ribbons.
"Once you get bitten by the show, you're done," she says, laughing. She will compete at this year's daffodil show.
Paul says she's learned everything she knows about daffodil care from the book "Daffodils for American Gardens" by nationally known bulb experts Brent and Becky Heath.
Daffodils thrive in full sun, but they also tolerate half-day shade. The bulbs need good drainage and humus-rich soil. If leaf compost or decomposed yard and kitchen waste is not available, use commercial bags of finely ground pine bark to improve your soil, according to the daffodil book.
During the growing season, March through May, the bulbs perform best if they receive 1/2 to 1 inch of moisture weekly. Fertilize bulbs each fall; the bulbs need no fertilizer the first year they are planted. To suppress weeds, mulch bulbs with pine straw.
"I believe in pine straw," says Paul.
"And I especially want to tell people to not braid the foliage.
"Some people still do this, and Martha Stewart recommends doing it, but braiding the foliage hurts next year's bloom."