By Sean Conway
The fragrant blooms of the Paperwhite Narcissus (Narcissus papyraceus), a signature flower of the cold season, are grown indoors from forced bulbs
Gardening and horticulture are about planning ahead. Once I see pumpkins showing up on doorsteps I know it is time to start planting Paperwhite bulbs. If planted now, these sweetly fragrant, easy-to-grow bulbs will be in bloom in time for Thanksgiving.
Native to the Mediterranean, Paperwhite Narcissus (Narcissus papyraceus) bulbs are closely related to daffodils but cannot tolerate freezing temperatures. Although not hardy for growing outdoors in colder regions of the country, Paperwhites are popular as both cut flowers and seasonal houseplants.
One of the easiest bulbs to force into bloom, Paperwhites do not need a period of cooling while their roots form the way spring blooming bulbs do. They also are not fussy about where they spread their roots. They can be grown in a shallow bowl of pebbles as easily as in potting soil.
The bulb contains all the energy it needs to flower and therefore does not need to be fertilized while it is growing. Its only requirements are water and light.
In the early fall, Paperwhites will bloom about four to six weeks after planting. As the season progresses the time from planting to blooming will decrease because the flowers within the bulbs are continually developing as the bulb ages. Bulbs planted in December will on average take only two to three weeks to come into flower.
Bulbs can be purchased at most garden centers or can be ordered online. Be sure to store your bulbs in a cool, dark space until you are ready to plant them.
Begin by choosing your container. I prefer to use shallow pots with holes in the bottom since I pot my bulbs in potting soil, but you can use containers without holes just as successfully by substituting pebbles for soil.
If you decide to use potting soil for your bulbs, begin by filling your container two-thirds from the top with soil. Place the bulbs flat side down on top of the soil, with their tips up. Don't worry if the tips are curving downward or outward, they will self-correct when the bulb begins to grow. Pack the bulbs into the pot tightly so that the sides of the bulbs are touching.
Next, cover the bulbs up to the growing tip with gravel, stones, marble chips, or tumbled glass. This helps hold the bulbs in place, keeps soil from spilling when watering, and helps retain necessary moisture around the roots. The material you use on top of the soil can be whatever you like, but be sure it is clean and free from contaminants. I use gravel from my driveway, but I have also used colored marbles for holiday pots.
Now water your pots well and set them in a cool but sunny location. Check periodically to make sure the soil does not dry out. The bulbs should show signs of growth in a few weeks.
If you choose not to use a container with drainage holes, fill your container almost to the top with crushed stones, pebbles or marbles, and bury the bulbs flat side down, leaving two thirds of the bulb above the surface. Put water in the container, but be sure the bulbs stay above the water or they will rot. Once roots begin to form on the bulbs, they will grow down into the moist stones.
Once in bloom, paperwhites grown indoors will stay in flower for about a week to 10 days, depending on the temperature of the room they are kept in. A warm room will shorten the bloom time, and a cool room will extend it. If you plant bulbs in one to two week intervals, you can enjoy them in your home for months.
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