Forcing Paperwhites to Bloom

Nothing fills the room like the fragrance coming from pristine white paperwhites. These winter blooming bulbs are southern favorites easily forced into early flowering making them easy choices for a living home décor element sure to add life to any setting. Of all the bulbs that can be forced into early bloom, the paperwhites, Narcissus tazetta, are the most popular and by far the easiest to bring into bloom.

Most bulbs require a certain number of chilling hours before they will be fooled into thinking spring has arrived. Unlike all the others, paperwhites do not require a chilling period, making them the most reliable bulb for forcing. In 3-4 weeks after planting, expect to have flowers and fragrance indoors. Following an easy step-by-step approach will ensure a healthy indoor bloom.

Forcing Paperwhites
– Buy big, plump and firm. Garden centers around town have healthy supplies of paperwhites for sale around the last week in October. Place them in paper bags in the refrigerator until planting. Never buy bulbs that have any soft tissue or obvious rotten areas. They should feel like a clove of garlic, firm and tough to the touch.
– Pick out a pot that at least 4-6 bulbs will fit snugly when planted. A 4-6” deep pot will allow for adequate rooting-in space for the bulb.
– Choose a commercial soil mix that container garden plants might go in outside. These mixes hold moisture but dry out without leading to a soggy situation, which might lead to rotting bulbs.
– Fill the container with soil mix, leaving at least 2” depth to place the bulbs in the pot. Always plant the pointy ends up. Fill with more soil mix, leaving at least 1” of space from the lip of the pot. This will allow for watering without having overflow that will make a mess.
– Water them on a regular basis, letting them dry out before each watering.
– In a few weeks roots will form. Move the pots to a sunny window in the house. As for temperatures, they prefer to be kept at around 60-65 degrees F.
– Once the blossoms start to unfold, move the plants away from direct sunlight. This will give a longer flowering period.

For continuous flowering in the house, stager plantings. Pot up more containers every two weeks.

The beauty of forcing paperwhites is only half complete at flowering. For southern gardeners, paperwhites are an old favorite in the garden. Once flowering is complete, move them to a sunny window in an out of the way place. In early spring as the weather warms, dig a hole, pull the pot off the well-developed mass of roots and plant them. In a few years they reward the gardener with blooms in mid-late January, reliably coming into bloom for years to come.

For more ideas on forcing paperwhites and other holiday bulb favorites, check out my recent Down and Dirty podcast.

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