Monday, November 26, 2012

Forcing Paperwhites


Following Thanksgiving is a perfect time to ‘force’ some Paperwhite Narcissus bulbs for Christmas. 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 bloom outdoors thus allowing us the pleasure of their company during the winter months. Paper whites have lovely faces and a heavenly scent!

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 habit 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.

Select a favorite container that will be lovely as a centerpiece or focal point, and a favorite is a glass bowl for the added pleasure of watching the roots as they begin to grow and slowly twine about the stones. If a large container is chosen, more bulbs will be needed and the display will entirely riotous… often more is better!

Fill the bottom of the container with stones to anchor your bulbs making a bed about two to three 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. Remember to give the bowl a shot of gin as the first flower buds appear. The gin will slightly stunt the foliage and force it to stand ‘at attention’ thus preventing the wilt so prevalent with forced Narcissus.

The temperature-trickery used to force early the blooms has confused the bulb’s internal clock so many people simply toss them. That seems ungrateful after they have given so much so as a thank you I plant them in the garden on a fine winter day. Expect several years to pass before they ‘remember’ when to flower at their proper time, which is in early spring.

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