Prepare the container. Fill a container with pebbles to within an inch of the rim. You can use a glass bowl, clay pot, or even a tall vase, which will help support the paper white's tall stems. Add water until it is just below the top of the pebbles.
Plant the bulbs. Set the bulbs on the surface of the pebbles, crowding them together so they almost touch. Add more pebbles, covering the bottom third of the bulbs. Make sure the bulbs themselves are not touching the water, or they may grow mold and rot.
Water and Wait. Maintain the water level described above and leave the bulbs in a cool location with little or no light. This cool darkness encourages root growth.
Check for growth. After a week or two, tug gently on the bulbs from time to time to test for root development. Once they feel rooted, move them to a bright spot without direct sunlight. They should flower in three to five weeks.
The process of forcing paper white narcissus is a blend of flower arranging and indoor gardening, and simpler than either. Forced paper whites spend all their energy in growth and bloom, and can be discarded when the blossoms fade, like a bouquet. Unlike many other forced bulbs, the paper white bulbs available for forcing don't require a special chilling or rest period to provide their fragrant, starry display. As soon as you plant them, they'll start growing!
Paper whites grow more slowly and last longer when temperatures are no warmer than 65° F. If it's too warm, they'll grow quickly, becoming floppy and leggy.
To keep your paper whites standing tall, you can support them with a decorative plant ring or a circle of stakes and twine.
For added appeal, use decorative or unusual containers for your paper whites. Instead of using plain pebbles, substitute colored stones, marbles, hydroponic gravel, or other unusual medium.
Photography by Sabin Gratz/National Gardening Association
Article published on June 23, 2008.