Forcing Paperwhite Narcissus Bulbs

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Forcing flower bulbs indoors is an excellent way to brighten the cold, gray days of winter. Tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, crocuses, and other spring-flowering bulbs can be forced indoors. Paperwhite narcissus can also be forced indoors. Paperwhite narcissus are easy to force. Unlike tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, and crocuses, paperwhite narcissus don't require a cold storage period to flower.

Several paperwhite narcissus varieties are available to home gardeners. Commonly grown varieties include 'Bethlehem' (creamy white petals, yellow cup), 'Galilee' (pure white flowers), 'Israel' (creamy yellow petals, sulfur yellow cup), 'Jerusalem' (pure white flowers), 'Nazareth' (soft yellow petals, bright yellow cup), and 'Ziva' (pure white flowers). All of the aforementioned varieties produce flowers with a musky fragrance. 'Grand Soleil d'Or' (yellow petals, orange cup) takes 1 to 2 weeks longer to force than other paperwhites. It also doesn't bloom as heavily as other varieties. However, 'Grand Soleil d'Or' has a sweet, fruity fragrance.

Paperwhite narcissus bulbs can be forced in clear, shallow bowls (no drainage holes) or pots. When forcing paperwhite narcissus in bowls, partially fill the container with washed gravel or stones. Place the bulbs on the gravel or stones. Then place additional gravel or stones around the bulbs, leaving the tips (noses) of the bulbs exposed. Add water to the bowl until it touches the bottom of the bulbs. Maintain the water at this level throughout the forcing period.

When forcing paperwhites in pots, partially fill the container with potting soil. Place the bulbs on the soil surface. Then add additional potting soil. When potted, the tips of the bulbs should stick above the potting soil. Water the potting soil thoroughly and then let it drain for a few minutes. Keep the potting soil moist throughout the forcing period.

Place the planted bulbs in a cool (45 to 50 degrees F), dark location for 2 to 3 weeks to encourage root growth. When the shoots reach a height of 3 inches, move the plants to a sunny window with a temperature of 60 to 70 degrees F. Paperwhites often require staking as plants may reach a height of 18 to 20 inches. To prolong their bloom period, move the paperwhite narcissus from direct sunlight when the plants begin to flower. Paperwhite narcissus bulbs should be discarded after flowering. Paperwhites can't be forced again and are not winter hardy outdoors.

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