In addition to the amaryllis, there’s another flower bulb that I like to grow in the winter to add some life to our wintry world; the paperwhite narcissus. Paperwhites are a tender cousin of the hardy daffodils that we plant in fall for spring flowering. We plant the hardy narcissus in the fall because they MUST freeze to be stimulated into growth once the soil warms in spring. Paperwhites, on the other hand, need no chilling and can be forced without the need of any chilling whatsoever.
The term “forced” has always seemed a bit harsh when referring to bringing bulbs into their flowering cycle prematurely in pots. “Enticing” or “tricking” seems more appropriate. In the case of Paperwhites, “enticing” them couldn’t be easier. You can pot them in soil, water them and they’ll start to grow right away. Rather than potting them in soil, I prefer to place the bulbs onto large gravel or glass marbles in a clear glass dish about 3” deep. I’ll then fill the dish with water to a level just below the base of the bulbs. This allows me to enjoy watching the roots grow before the leaves and flowers shoot up from the top of the bulbs. Whichever method you use, place you bulbs in a cool place (50 to 65 degrees) for a couple of weeks. During this time the roots will grow at an amazing rate. Just when the roots have filled the pots, the leaves will emerge from the bulbs. Growth will occur very quickly. Among the leaves will be the flower spikes.
Sometime between 5 to 7 weeks after you started your paperwhites; you’ll be enjoying fragrant blooms to cheer you up as you wait for spring to arrive. Paperwhites that have been forced won’t have enough energy to repeat the cycle and are generally discarded after the blooms have gone by. I like to start batches of paperwhites every couple of weeks so there’s always some coming into flower
.If you’ve never “enticed” paperwhites into bloom in the winter, give it a try. It’s a great way to brighten up winter and introduce you kids to the miracle of how plants grow.