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A miniature daffodil for early bloom

Nancy Brachey
Nancy Brachey writes about gardening for The Charlotte Observer's weekly Home & Garden section.

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  • Ask Nancy

    Q. What can I plant besides pansies in pots for bloom from fall and through the winter into spring?

    A. Pansies are the top choice for this purpose. However there are other plants for temporary winter color. Ornamental kale and ornamental cabbage look fine and possess interesting texture and color. But they do not have the staying power or pansies and their smaller cousins, the violas.

When people are just discovering the pleasure of planting flower bulbs in autumn, they tend to go for the tall stems and big blooms. The result is a lot of Oxford tulips and Dutch Master daffodils in flower beds.

Nothing wrong there, but don’t overlook certain smaller bulbs. I am especially fond of a miniature daffodil named Tete-a-Tete. It has many attributes, but size is not one of them. It rises just 5 or 6 inches.

But it does this typically in February, just when we all need a jolt of golden yellow in the winter landscape. It is scarcely bothered by drastic cold that might set in. It is sold widely. Best of all, it has vigor that brings it back for many years.

More than once, I have wandered into my back yard on a cold winter day to find Tete-a-Tete rising through the mulch of old leaves and pine needles. To pick or not to pick? That is the question. It is hard to resist picking some, even though I know those left outside will last many days longer than ones brought into a warm house.

With the flower bulb shopping season about to begin, I hope you will think about Tete-a-Tete and other small daffodils you see in garden centers and catalogs.

Unlike many daffodils large and small, the Tete produces two or three little flowers per stem, which increases its visibility in a flower bed and makes a nice bold statement. Because it is short, it must go at the front, where it won’t be blocked by rising leaves and stems of the later, taller flower bulbs. They look best in elongated drifts, making a nice edge for a flower bed.

It is also a great container plant, performing beautifully in flower pots, even small ones 6 inches in diameter. I prefer to plant Tete solo in pots and use the taller daffodils or tulips in larger ones, combined with pansies for a long season of bloom.

Flowering bulbs require well-drained soil and, in most cases, a sunny location. Tete likes well-drained soil, but since you plant it only 3 or 4 inches deep, that is not difficult to achieve unless the spot is as the bottom of a downspout that sends water cascading on top of the planted bulbs. The right amount of sun is important, yet I have found there is just enough sun from the time the Tete bulbs rise until the leaves turn yellow for the bulbs to make buds for next year’s flowers.

Tete-a-Tete is just one of many amazing small daffodils that bloom early. Other good ones include Jack Snipe, Jetfire and February Gold. Peeping Tom is early, but a bit taller, about 12 inches. A mix of them in your flower bed will give plenty of enjoyment in mid-winter while you are waiting for the big show of taller daffodils and tulips in March and April.

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