The winter forcing of paperwhite narcissus, has been a tradition of many gardeners, for years. I started when a friend gave me a bulb forcing kit as a Christmas gift. The kit consisted of a plastic three-sided cup, of sorts, a holder that fit into the three-sided cup, and three “pre-chilled” paperwhite bulbs. All I had to do was add water, and watch them grow. After they bloomed, I pulled out the spent bulbs, tossed them, and saved the bulb holder. For the next few years, until the device broke, I re-packed it with paperwhite bulbs that I bought at a local garden center.
After that, I started experimenting with my own bulb forcing set ups. So this is how I do it now….
First, buy pre-chilled, BIG meaty bulbs, that are FIRM of texture, and look to be starting to sprout. A good garden center will have them. Ask for “pre-chilled” paperwhite narcissus for winter INDOOR forcing. They are sold out of big boxes, or crates, and you can pick your own. A popular variety is called ZIVA.
Second, find a CLEAR, tall sided glass vase, jar, water pitcher, or whatever attracts you for the paperwhites to grow in. Picking a tall sided glass container will support the foliage, and flowers as they grow up. Most paperwhites grow about 12″ to 14″ tall.
Third, put about 2 or 3 inches of crushed stone in the glass container. I use SMALL crushed stones that are around the foundation of my house, (a 1950’s) kind of drainage, but drive way gravel would be great. A friend bought some pre-started paperwhites that were nested in glass marbles. She commented to me, about the smell, and slime, that formed on the glass marbles, by the time they finished blooming, and how she THREW it ALL away.
Fourth, take the bulbs, aim the growth tips ALL toward the center of the container, and gently push them down a bit into the crushed stones “nesting” them. You can then sprinkle a bit more crushed stone around them. Only about 1/3 of the bulb needs to be surrounded by gravel. ONLY force 3 or 4 paperwhite narcissus at a time. Paperwhites can be SMELLY, almost OFFENSIVE, if you have to many blooming indoors at once!
Fifth, SLOWLY fill the container with water, JUST coming up to the bottom of the paperwhite narcissus bulbs. You don’t want them sitting in water, BUT just having the ability to drink the water from below the bulb. Place the containerized bulbs in a light spot. I always have mine on the kitchen counter, in front of the windows, by the sink. As the bulbs develop roots, and start to grow, they will push themselves up, out of the crushed stones a bit. This is a common thing.
Finally, if you find your paperwhites are flopping a bit, as they grow up, cut a bamboo stick, and insert it into the crushed stones, and tie a bit of jute, raffia, or ribbon around everything. After they are done blooming, you can pull out the bulbs, and throw them away. They are not ment to re-bloom again. Replant a second, or even third crop, in the same crushed stones. I normally start my paperwhite narcissus after Christmas, so there is a bit of Spring in the kitchen during the dead of winter.
So tell me, do you force paperwhites? Have you ever forced to many, because you saw a LARGE planting of them, in some decorating magazine, and regretted it?
Hi Fred, Enjoyed your blog. You’ve inspired me to buy some ” Paper Whites” to force!
Hi Kathy! I am glad one of my articles inspired you to go out and start some paperwhites. Glenn seems to be looking for spring, so when they bloom, it will be a little of what is yet to come.