Paperwhites (more horticulturally and properly known as Narcissus papyraceus (a species daffodil) are the most popular forcing bulb for several reasons.
The first is that they are drop-dead easy to grow (they dont require a long dormancy or chilling period).
The second is that they are fragrant and a single bouquet will perfume an entire house.
Thirdly, if you plant them in succession, you can have pot after pot flowering and blooming all winter long.
There are two ways to force these bulbs. One is to grow the bulb in a pot without drainage holes, the second is to use a pot with drainage holes.
If youre using a pot without drainage holes then try to use something that is 3 to 4 inches deep. Put 2 inches of small stones, decorative gravel etc. on the bottom of the pot. This is your water reservoir. Then place the bulbs directly onto this gravel and fill in around the bulbs with more gravel. The noses or upper pointy end of the bulbs should just be showing after youve finished backfilling carefully around the bulbs. Crowd the bulbs in, leaving just a quarter inch between bulbs. (the more the merrier)
You want to add water to this pot so that the water level is just below the level of the bulbs and that the bulbs do NOT sit in water. Bulbs rot if they sit in water. This system is ideal for clear containers where you can see the water level.
Using Pots with Soil and Drainage Holes
Use a similarly deep pot (3-4) and fill the bottom two inches with good quality potting soil. Then place the bulbs as above so that the bulbs are not touching but as close as you can make them to give a great show of blooms. Backfill with potting soil (note that you havent put a drainage layer of stone into these pots) so the bulb noses are just showing. Soak the soil thoroughly and backfill again if there are any sunken areas of soil.
Keep the soil just damp and dont bother fertilizing.
The method of planting paperwhites is the same in both cases, the difference is that one has soil while the other has rock
How to Grow
The ideal thing to do is to keep the bulbs dark and cool for the first three weeks. Not only is this ideal, it is necessary to allow the bulbs to set roots out. You want something in the order of 50-60F temperatures in ideal settings.
After three weeks, move the paperwhites pot to a bright sunny windowsill (temperature still cool if possible) and wait for the bulbs to start blooming. Maintain a damp soil or water level in the pot. At this stage, if you do not give the paperwhites enough sunlight, the bulb leaves will grow long and stringy (ugly looking) Direct southern exposure is best.
Once the paperwhites start to bloom, move them to where you want to enjoy them. Theyll last longer if they are out of direct sunlight and kept cool.
Enjoy the fragrance and the color.
Extra points to note
Paperwhites flower bulbs are going to flower for 3 - 4 weeks if the temperatures are right.
This is a zone 8 to 11 bulb and is simply not hardy outside of those zones. So we generally toss them away when they are finished blooming. Unfortunately, I don't know a way to overwinter them in a cold climate other than moving them to a warm climate (with me along with them I'd hope).
Plant every two weeks (5 bulbs will fit in a 6 inch pot) to ensure a constant supply of fragrance and flowers from November through March.
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