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Start now for a bowl of winter sunshine

Although you may think you don't need a bowl of sunshine after the hot summer we've had, try to think ahead to December or January, when it would be very welcome on a dark, rainy day.

The sunshine I'm speaking of is daffodils, and if you'd like to have some blooming in your house this winter, the early steps must be taken now. The bulbs need to go through a chilling period of 10 to 13 weeks before they grow and bloom. The chilling is to make them believe that they are dormant, and it is winter now.

While the ground in the Rogue Valley is still too warm for daffodil bulbs to be planted outdoors, the bulbs are already available in stores and catalogs. Select the largest bulbs you can find, preferably from the list below. Not all daffodils force well, especially if they get too tall. Some varieties that do force well include Accent, Barrett Browning, Bridal Crown, Carlton, Dutch Master, February Gold, Fortune, Ice Follies, Mount Hood, Peeping Tom and Unsurpassable. You might want to try some miniatures, too.

Not all on the list are pure yellow — Mount Hood, for example, is a white variety. Do not mix different varieties in the same container, as they may bloom at different times.

Use 6- to 8-inch pots for each group you plant, making sure the container has drain holes. I like plastic pots for this, as the soil and bulbs do not dry out as quickly, but clay or ceramic works, too. Cover the drain holes — I use a large coffee filter for that. Fill the pots about halfway with a mixture of equal parts good loamy topsoil, peat and sand. Or, you can use a good quality potting soil, although its light weight doesn't make the pot as stable when tall plants are in it. Do not add any fertilizer — the elements necessary for the bulb to grow and bloom are already inside it.

Do not pack the soil; it needs to be kept light and fluffy for roots to form. Now place the bulbs in the container. They can be quite close together — almost touching. Add more soil, adjusting the bulbs so that just the tips of their noses show above the soil. Water well, so that the soil is moist, but not wet.

Now begins the chilling process. The bulbs need to be chilled at 35 to 45 degrees for at least 10 weeks. For most of us, that means using the refrigerator. As days get colder, and you need refrigerator space for the turkey and pumpkin pie, you could move the pots outdoors. Cover them with leaves or mulch, if you do. They must not freeze, nor have the sun on them.

After about 10 weeks, you will see green growth, and roots may even be coming out of the bottom of the pot. At this point, bring them into warmer conditions gradually — from the refrigerator to the garage, for example. As you see more growth, and perhaps even some flower buds forming, bring them into a cool place in the house. Sun on them is OK at this point, such as in an east window. Move to regular house conditions when the buds begin to open. This gradual warming process to bring them into bloom will take about three weeks. Keep the soil moist, but never wet.

When the bulbs have finished 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.

It's fun to see if you can time this process for someone's winter birthday, or even Valentine's Day. Remember to make a bowl of sunshine for yourself, too, to brighten up cold winter days.

Coming up: Arborist Tal Blankenship will share current and practical information on caring for your trees, including selecting, planting and maintenance from 7 to 9 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 23. Class will be at the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center, 569 Hanley Road in Central Point. Call 541-776-7371 to register for this $10 class.

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