Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
December, 2003
Regional Report

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Easy-going paper whites will grow in gravel but pot up the large amaryllis bulb in potting soil.

Easy Forcing

"Easy forcing" may sound like an oxymoron, but in this case it's true. There is one kind of bulb that even the most brown-thumbed among us can manage to force into bloom to enjoy during the dull and drab days of winter: paper white narcissus.

Unlike most daffodils, paper whites are special warm-climate bulbs that need no chilling period, so they are quick and easy to force. 'Ziva' and 'Grand Soleil d'Or', for example, are two varieties you might encounter. Paper whites are commonly sold through catalog suppliers and garden centers.

Forcing Tips
Pot these up using clean gravel, pebbles, or marbles instead of potting mix. Use a flat-bottomed, leak-proof bowl, such as a recycled frozen whipped topping or margarine tub. For display, hide your utilitarian dish inside a decorative cache pot. A 6-inch-wide pot will hold about a half dozen bulbs.

Put several inches of gravel in the bowl, then set your bulbs on the gravel. Place them pointy end up and close together so they almost touch. Add more gravel to cover about two thirds of the height of the bulbs. Leave the neck and shoulders of the bulbs exposed.

Add water to just below the bulbs. Do not let the bulbs sit in the water or they might rot. Refill as necessary to maintain the water level close to -- but not touching -- the bottom of the bulbs. The bulbs will root downward and take up water as needed.

Place the pot on a sunny windowsill. Give it a quarter turn daily to keep the bulbs growing straight. Look for flowers in about five weeks.

Once the blooms are finished, say thank you and goodbye, and pitch the bulbs. They will not bloom again for you, so there is no point in keeping them.

Once you try this easy forcing, you'll be hooked. Next year, consider forcing paper whites in waves so you have steady bloom throughout the holidays and well into spring, maybe even up until the real daffodils bloom in the garden. These make nice gifts, too.

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