There’s nothing better in the dead of winter than a hint of spring to lift the mood. While most flowers are sound asleep, Paperwhite narcissus, or just Paperwhites, can deliver that touch of verve that most gardeners are anxiously awaiting. Their clean white blooms along with their leggy green leafage offer up a reminder that springtime and warmer days are just around the bend.
Paperwhites are tender bulbs belonging to the group Tazetta narcissus. They can be grown in the ground in only the warmest regions of the U.S. (U.S. Department of Agriculture Zones 9 and up). For everyone else, Paperwhites are the one of the easiest bulbs to grow indoors anytime of the year.
Their elegance has earned them a special place among floral favorites during the holiday season. They’re a beloved favorite during the winter months, too. For Paperwhite devotees, they can be enjoyed year round.
How to Grow and Care for Paperwhites
Paperwhites are easy to grow. If you live where you can plant Paperwhites in the ground, plant your bulbs a couple inches apart and a couple of inches deep. Bulb tips should be pointing up while the roots point down. Add a handful or two of compost to the bed before planting to give your Paperwhites a little snack. Outdoor Paperwhites will need lots of sun.
Paperwhites that have been established in the ground will increase. Division will be helpful to your Paperwhites every few years. If your the leaves flop over and you notice clumping, divide your bulbs sooner. Wait until after the blooms are gone and the leaves have withered. Dig up the bulbs, and separate them. Replant the bulbs right away, or store them in a cool location until autumn planting.
Common Problems with Growing Paperwhites, Including Forcing Bloom
The biggest problem with growing Paperwhites is that not enough people to grow them. A lot of folks live north of the regions where Paperwhites can be grown outside. Thankfully, Paperwhites are eager to grow indoors. This makes them excellent for forcing.
To force Paperwhites in soil, tuck the bulbs within a container closely together. The bulbs will support each other as they bloom and grow. Set the bulbs in the container with their tips up just like you would outside.
The soil for your container grown Paperwhites should be filled with an excellent, well draining soil. Cover your bulbs lightly with soil. Then, place the container in a low lit, cool area of your home. A chilly 50 to 6o degrees is a good temperature range. Once your Paperwhites have sent up shoots, place them in a bright and sunny location. You will enjoy the small, fragrant, cup-shaped flowers in no time.
If you don’t get enough enjoyment out of one round of bulbs, replace the spent bulbs with new bulbs, and begin again. Rest the spent bulbs for a couple of seasons just like they would rest in nature. Place them in a dry, cool, dark location until their turn rolls around again. To keep track of your spent bulbs, store them in brown paper sacks marked with the date of when they will be ready to grow again.
An even simpler, but equally stunning way to force narcissus is to grow them in pebbles. Place a couple of inches of pebbles in the bottom of the jar, vase, or dish. Set a few bulbs onto the pebbles with the tips up and roots down. Pour water into the container until the water covers the rocks. The bulbs should be sitting above the water line. If the bulbs are immersed in the water, they will rot.
As with the soil plantings, put your pebble container in a dark and cool location. When your Paperwhites have sprouted stems that are a couple of inches tall, move them into a bright window. They will continue to grow and bloom like magic.
Want to learn more about growing Paperwhite Narcissus bulbs?
Creative Commons Flickr photo courtesy of Kate Ter Haar