In the Garden:
Paper white narcissus quickly send up green shoots and a flower stalk to brighten the winter with fragrance and flowers.
A Touch of Spring with Paperwhites
Despite all the holiday cheer and fun, this time of year can be deadly for us gardeners who like to keep our hands dirty. The poinsettias, Christmas cactus, and other holiday plants are fine to look at, but I want to plant something.
Saved by a Narcissus
If I had thought about it in September, I could have chilled some tulips and hyacinths in the refrigerator to force indoors in January. But I was busy harvesting vegetables and planting perennials. Luckily there's the paper white narcissus. This small flowered daffodil doesn't require any prechilling to force indoors. All you do is buy the bulbs, pot them up, water, keep them in a warm location, and within one month, you'll have flowers. The perfect solution for the forgetful gardener.
Growing Paper whites Indoors
There are many varieties of paperwhite narcissus, but I like the standard white flowered one sold under the name "paperwhites". Once you've purchased the bulbs, find a container to force them in. I use a shallow, clay bulb dish which looks like a regular clay pot, but it's not as deep. You can also use plastic or decorative ceramic pots. Fill the pots with potting soil or stone pebbles. Since you're forcing these bulbs indoors, you won't have to worry about fertilizing them. All the nutrients they need to flower are contained in the bulb.
Groups Your Bulbs
I like planting the bulbs in groups packed close together. The flower show is more dramatic that way. In an 8 inch diameter pot I can fit 5 bulbs almost touching each other. Keep the bulbs watered and place the pot in a sunny, warm room.
In our climate the natural sunlight isn't strong enough in winter to keep the flower stalks from getting leggy. I usually tie the flower stalks together with ribbon or string as they grow to prevent them from flopping over when the flowers open.
Within one month you'll have a mass of white blooms. The fragrance can be heavenly or stinky, depending on who you talk to. I always liked the fragrance because it reminded me of spring, which in my area is months away.
After flowering, some gardeners like to try to plant these forced bulbs outdoors in spring. If you want to try, cut the flower stalks back, but don't prune the leaves, and keep the plant watered. Let the leaves naturally dieback later in winter. Chances are forced bulbs that are planted in the landscape won't flower again for a few years, so unless you're very patient I would just contribute the bulbs to the compost pile.
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