Holiday Paperwhites

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There are so many things to look forward to as we get ready to celebrate the holidays. Obviously the look and amazing smell of a real Christmas tree, but also vibrant poinsettias and the holiday blooms of Christmas cactus.

And then there’s the timeless delicate look of gorgeous “forced” Paperwhites, which you can get now and have bloom in time to be the centerpiece of your holiday table.

Although the common terms is to “force” these bulbs, I prefer to think of it as coaxing this plant; essentially, you are encouraging it to bloom out of season.

Most spring flowering bulbs need 12 to 15 weeks at temperatures between 41 and 48 degrees in order to produce a good root system essential to “force” them to flower. 

Narcissus tazetta – which in addition to Paperwhites also includes the Soleil d’Or and Chinese Sacred Lily  – are among the most popular flowers that do not require this 12-week rooting period. They are easy to start and can give wonderfully scented, white trumpeted flowers until late March.

Paperwhites are most often (and most easily) potted in shallow containers of gravel or decorative stones. Place bulbs on a layer of gravel and carefully fill in enough gravel to hold bulbs but not cover them, or place them onto the stones, pushing them down just far enough so the bulbs are supported in an upright position. Put several of them together, and don’t worry about crowding them; those tighter groupings are actually the most attractive when they bloom.

Add water to the container. It should just reach the base of the bulbs, but not touch the bulbs. If the water covers too much of the bulb, it will rot. Now put them in a cool dark place for one to two weeks. When the roots have begun to take hold, and the plant has sprung from the bulb, take the pot out into a brightly lit room. In about a month, your Paperwhites will be in bloom.

Here’s another tip: Plant your Paperwhites in succession so you have pots of them blooming all winter! After blooming, cut the flower and stem off. Do not cut back the leaves. Put them in a sunny window and transplant them outdoors when the weather permits. It will take 2 to 3 years before they will bloom again. 

Happy Gardening,