Along with amaryllis, paperwhite, also called narcissus, is a spring bulb popular for “forcing” during winter. Forcing bulbs means growing them to bloom earlier than they would under normal landscape conditions.
Paperwhite bulbs are commonly available now, and forcing them to bloom during winter is not difficult. And the results are beautiful, says LSU AgCenter horticulturist Dan Gill.
Start by filling a pot that has drainage holes about two-thirds full of potting soil. Place the bulbs on the soil with their pointed ends up, using enough bulbs to fill the pot without the bulbs touching each other. Add enough potting soil to cover the bulbs with the points just sticking above the soil surface, then water the pot thoroughly.
Once the bulbs are planted, place the pot in a shady spot outside if the weather is above freezing, or put them in an unheated garage. Water them often enough to keep the soil moist. When you see the tips of the leaves showing, move the pot to a sunny location outside if temperatures remain above freezing. Or place it in a sunny window indoors in an unheated room.
Grown in conditions that are too warm or with too little light, the leaves and flower stalks will be tall and tend to flop over, Gill says. This frequently occurs when people try to force paperwhites in a warm room indoors on a windowsill.
“Placing a pot in a sunny spot outside generally produces the best results,” Gill says. “Just bring the pot inside on those nights when freezing temperatures are predicted, and place it back outside when the freeze is over.”
When the first flower buds open, move the pot indoors to enjoy. If possible, move the pot of paperwhites into a cool, unheated location at night and back to its display location during the day. This will make the flowers last longer.
Paperwhites also may be grown in shallow bowls of pebbles and water. Place the bulbs on the surface and add enough rocks so that the bulbs are two-thirds covered. Add enough water to touch the bottom of the bulbs, and maintain the water at this level. Place the container in a cool, sunny area and wait for the blooms.
Got a gardening question? Write to GardenNews@agcenter.lsu.edu.