Chill, then bloom

Start daffodil bulbs now for a burst of color in the dead of winter

While it may seem strange to talk about daffodils in September, this is the time to get started if you want to cheer up some winter days with daffodils blooming in January or February.

Of course, we are talking about them blooming indoors, not in your yard, in midwinter. To me, having a pot or two of blooming flowers can make winter seem less dreary.

But we need to begin in late September or October, as the bulbs must go through a chilling process of several weeks before they will grow and bloom.

Daffodil bulbs are already available in garden stores. The ground is still too warm to plant them outdoors, but you can buy them for forcing. Select the largest bulbs available. Some varieties that force well include Accent, Barrett Browning, Beryl, Bridal Crown, Cantitrice, Carbineer, Carlton, Dutch Master, February Gold, Fortune, Geranium, Ice Follies, King Alfred, Mt. Hood, Peeping Tom and Silver Chimes. Not all daffodils force well; choose ones that are not too tall — you might want to try some miniatures, too.

Use 6- to 8-inch pots with good drainage. Plastic works well, because the soil and bulbs don't dry out as fast. Fill the pots with a mixture of equal parts good loamy topsoil, peat and sand. You can plant five or six bulbs in a pot; the noses of the bulbs should be exposed. Do not pack the soil. The bulbs do not need to be fertilized. Water well. The soil should be moist, but not wet, throughout the entire process.

Now begins the chilling period. The bulbs need to be chilled at 35 to 45 degrees for at least 10 to 12 weeks. This will mean the use of a refrigerator. As days get colder, and your refrigerator needs space for holiday food, you could move the pots outdoors and cover them with leaves or mulch. However, do not put them in the sun or allow them to freeze. During this period, the bulbs will be developing roots but must be kept chilled.

After about 10 weeks, you will see green growth. Now bring the pots into warmer conditions gradually — from the refrigerator or outdoors to the garage, for example. Do not bring them immediately into the warmth of the house. As you see more growth and some flower buds forming, bring them into the coolest place in your house for a couple of weeks, and from there move them into the full warmth and light of the house, where they will be like a potful of sunshine, even if it is raining outdoors.

After your bulbs finish blooming, and the foliage dies back, you can move them to an outdoor bed, feed them with bulb food, and they will bloom again, but perhaps not for a year or two.

If you give this a try, you can time the blooms for Valentine's Day or someone's winter birthday.

Coming up: On Monday, Oct. 8, Tal Blankenship, retired Master Gardener adviser, will discuss and demonstrate saving seeds from the home garden. The class is from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center, 569 Hanley Road, in Central Point. The cost is $5. Call 541-776-7371.

Carol Oneal is a past president of the OSU Jackson County Master Gardeners Association. Email her at diggit1225@gmail.com.


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