Monday, November 1, 2010

Forcing Paperwhites for the Holidays



The days seem to be passing quickly and soon the winter festivities will arrive. To decorate with scent, color, and charm, plan now to ‘force’ some bulbs for the up-coming season. For those unfamiliar with the process, ‘forcing’ is the method by which a bulb is planted and compelled to grow and bloom out of season by exposure to the warm temperature indoors. This process brings the bulbs into bloom long before they would naturally bloom outdoors, thus allowing us the pleasure of their company during winter months.

Since their ancestors came from warm areas of the Mediterranean the darling Paperwhite Narcissus requires no cold to bloom and may easily forced. Taking only three to four weeks to flower, they will bloom faithfully providing both fragrance and cheer for the holidays. So easy is the growth of these bulbs that anchoring material may include gravel, pebbles, colored glass stones, or moss as acceptable mediums. Any sort of shallow growth container whether pottery, glass, or clay will work as well.

First select large, top-grade, flawless bulbs which are free of sooty mold then choose a favorite container that will be lovely as a centerpiece or focal point. Perhaps select a glass bowl for the added pleasure of watching the roots as they begin to grow and slowly twine about the stones. Grandmother’s shallow crystal bowl filled with red, white, and green glass stones is lovely at Christmas but more a more rustic selection might include a pottery bowl with polished rocks or pea gravel. Naturally if a large container is chosen, more bulbs will be needed, however the display will be entirely riotous… and often more is better!

(Ten days)

Fill the bottom of the container with whatever you have chosen to anchor your bulbs, making a bed about two inches deep. Gently press the bulbs halfway down the bulb mass, wriggling and carefully nestling them until they stand firmly on their own. Try to space the bulbs about two inches apart, remembering to place several in the center as well. After arranging your bulbs, fill the container with enough water to cover your anchoring material, moistening the bulbs approximately half way up. Keep this water level, adding a little each day if necessary and your bulbs will begin to flower in three to four weeks.

As the roots grow, the reed-like foliage will first appear and suddenly many tiny blooms arrive, slowly swelling, then opening over the course of several days. Remember to give the bowl a shot of gin as the first flower buds appear. The gin will force the foliage to stand at attention and will prevent the wilt so prevalent with forced Narcissus.

The marvelous sweet smelling flowers will last several weeks filling the house with spring time as temperatures plummet. One of the most beautiful books I own is 'Paradise Contained'. Featuring photographs by William Stites, with Mary Sears and Kathryn George, it is timeless and would make a lovely gift for anyone who gardens.