Thursday, January 5, 2012

Forcing paperwhites for winter flowers.

Narcissus Paperwhite
Narcissus----------A little sunshine in the winter.

My favorite flowers to brighten a dark winter day are the Paperwhite Narcissus or the Soliel D'or which is yellow with an orange cup. Below are instructions for this winter sunshine.
Paperwhites will grow happily and bloom with nothing more than water and stones or beach glass. To "plant" your bulbs in a soilless container begin by carefully placing a layer of stones or glass to a depth of about 2 inches in a small vase or about 4 inches in a larger vase. Next place a layer of bulbs close to each other, roots facing down, tips facing toward the middle. Put a few stones or pieces of beach glass around and between the bulbs to anchor them in the vase. Leave the tops of the bulbs exposed. Finally, add water until the level reaches just below the base of the bulbs, but no higher (if the bases of the bulbs sit in water, they will rot). Follow the instructions for "Rooting and care" below.

Soliel Narcissus

Bulbs in different containers

To pot the bulbs with potting mix, begin by placing the potting mix in a plastic tub. Slowly add water and stir until the mix is moist but not soggy. Add moistened mix to the accompanying container until it is about 3/4 full. Set the bulbs, pointed end up, on top of the mix. Space the bulbs very closely; they should almost touch. Then add more mix, covering the bulbs up to their necks and leaving the tips exposed. Water throughly. Follow the instructions for "Rooting and care" below.

Rooting and care: Set your container or vase in a cool (50-60°F is ideal) place away from direct sunlight. Check the bulbs frequently and water thoroughly when they potting mix is dry 1 inch below the surface (but not more than once a week until the bulbs begin active growth), or when the water level is more than an inch below the stones or glass in your vase. If your bulbs are in a bowl (a pot without a drainage hole), water with extra care: Bulbs sitting in soggy potting mix soon rot. Once a week, tug gently on the bulbs to see if they have begun to product roots. When your tug meets with firm resistance (usually about 3 weeks after potting), move the container to a sunny window. Keep a close eye on watering. Bulbs in active growth can dry out in just a day or two. When Paperwhites are forced to bloom indoors, they have a tendency to topple when in flower. Hold them upright with bulb supports or with bamboo stakes and twine (available at garden centers). 

Face the growth toward the center, my preference
Good root growth around the peebles and the water
is not covering the bulb.

The bulbs took about 2 weeks to get to the 4" height in darkness and cool climate. Moved into a bright area they grew and began to bloom within the next week. If they are kept away from heat sources and in the light they will do well.

If you don't want to start your Paperwhites right away or you want to hold some in reserve for a staggered display, store them at cool but not cold room temperature in a dark place.

After Paperwhites finish blooming, we recommend that you throw the bulbs out or toss them on the compost pile. They won't bloom again indoors. Happy forcing.

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