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FORCING PAPERWHITE BULBS

Anne K Moore
Photos by Anne K Moore

If you are like me, you probably hate seeing Christmas articles before Thanksgiving.  Now, I'm giving you Christmas tips before Halloween.  Please, do not quit reading. 

This really is a necessary time to tell you about these wonderful bulbs because they will take from one to two months to bloom indoors.  Add to that the ordering and mail time, and you don’t have any time to waste if you want flowers for Christmas gifts.

I'm talking the wonderfully fragrant paperwhites you can plant in pebbles and water.  They are so uncomplicated.  They can perfume your house and will make wonderful gifts for friends who stop by over the holidays.

For friendship gifts, find inexpensive vases at hobby or thrift stores.  Choose clear deep vases that are just wide enough to hold one or three bulbs.  For yourself, you can be a bit more extravagant and choose larger containers.

These bulb jars do not have to be clear, although the see-through pots show off the pebbles and roots along with the stems and flowers.  Which brings us to the next thing you will need:  small stones, rocks or pebbles.  You can even wash driveway gravel and use it as the base for your bulbs.   

If you add 1 tablespoon of rubbing alcohol to a gallon of water and use this for the bulb growing medium, the leaves and flower stems will be shorter and sturdier, keeping them from flopping as they grow.  I tried this trick last year, making up the solution in a gallon jug and using it to keep the bulbs watered.

I also learned from a friend to plant the paperwhites in a very deep glass container, just large enough to hold the bulbs side by side.  The stems are supported by the glass as they grow.  Voila!  No more staking required.  You will need stakes if you do not try these flop-stopping tips.

You can start paper whites in a cool area, outdoors if there is no threat of frost or freeze; or indoors in a garage or basement or unheated room.  Leave them there until roots have fully developed.  Usually two weeks will get them off to a good start.  At this point, they do not need light. 

After the roots have grown into the pebbles, bring them into a brightly lit, warm room.  Lush foliage and small buds will grow.  Soon the air will be filled with their fragrance.

Many of the easily found bulbs around town have a  musky odor.  Some of these bulbs, most likely called ‘Ziva’, will actually have a smell that is overpowering and unpleasant to some folks.  There are several types of paperwhites available on the market but you might have to search them out. 

Some of these paperwhites are larger flowered with a sweeter, less pungent fragrance. If you would like to try a bulb or two with a more delicate fragrance, try Inbal or Israel  These, and more, are available from bulb growers with internet or paper catalogs.  I ordered mine from www.brentandbeckysbulbs.com  For more information on growing paperwhite narcissus, check out our video at: http://www.gardensmart.tv/?p=play_video&year=2004&format=wmv&clip=smarttip1show30.wmv

When the flowers have finished their season, you can toss them on the compost heap.  If you live in zone 8 or warmer, you can plant these bulbs outdoors and they will bloom again in your garden in a couple of years.  (They have even survived in sheltered locations in my zone 7 gardens.)

---Posted Oct. 23, 2009---


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