Forcing Paperwhites

Nothing brightens up the dark winter months quite like the fresh green shoots of paperwhite bulbs. They're quick to bloom, easy to grow and the perfect addition to your cozy winter decor.

New to forced bulbs? Let's start at the beginning...

What do you mean forced?
By 'forcing' bulbs, we are encouraging them to grow outside of their usual season, and most likely, climate. As you may know, bulbs are usually planted in fall and require periods of dormancy and cold before they begin to shoot up through the soil in the spring. By forcing them indoors we are mimicking conditions that signal to the bulb that it's time to grow. Thus, 'forcing' them to bloom on our timeline. Pretty neat, right?

What is a paperwhite?
A variety of narcissus (like daffodils), paperwhites are native to the Mediterranean region. Because they prefer warmer climates, the ideal way to enjoy them here in the mid-Atlantic iis to force them indoors.

Sprouting from the bulb, a paperwhite will first send up bright green shoots before forming clusters of small, fragrant flowers. We sell a variety of paperwhite that has a very light scent as we find that some people are turned off by the smell.

So what do I need to do?
Unlike other bulbs, paperwhites are happy to grow with just a little water and a little warmth. That's right, you don't even need soil! (Though you can certainly pot them up if you prefer that look.) Because the bulbs are fairly small, they like to be clustered together to grow.

II like to grow paperwhites in antique vases, flower pots, urns and even tea cups and saucers. Pick your favorite vessels and fill several! Because paperwhites are quick to grow (just 3-4 weeks) I suggest staggering your plantings to keep your house in bloom throughout the winter. As one planting is beginning to bloom, pull out the next display to begin the process again.

Forcing in Water
Choose a watertight container such as a cylinder vase, mason jar, glass dish or bowl. Add 2-3" of pebbles, river stones or marbles. Nestle the bulbs on top of the stones with the tips up; they like to be close so it's fine if they're touching! Add a few more stones to secure the bulbs leaving about 1/3 of the bulb exposed. Fill the bottom of the vessel with water until is just reaches the base of the bulbs. Make sure that the bulbs are not sitting in the water or they will rot!

Leave the container in a cool, dark space (about 50-60 degrees) for 7-10 days. This will help to initiate root development. Check that water level and refill as needed. As roots develop you won't need to add quite as much water just as long as the roots are touching the H2O!

When the shoots are 2-3 inches tall, bring the container back into a warmer, brighter spot. (not direct sunlight). To keep the stems growing straight, you can rotate the container. The stems will naturally grow towards the light. Bulbs will bloom in 3-4 weeks. Unfortunately, they will not grow again so I suggest composting them at this point!

Forcing in Soil
Choose a pot or vessel at least 4" deep. I like to use clay and terracotta pots, porcelain dishes and ceramic urns. Fill the pot with dampened potting soil, leaving about 2" at the top. Arrange the bulbs in the container so that they're just about touching, tips up, and then cover them about half way with more soil.

Leave the container in a cool, dark space (about 50-60 degrees) for 7-10 days to initiate root development. Water as needed; the soil should be slightly damp but not sopping wet.

When the shoots are 2-3 inches tall, bring the container back into a warmer, brighter spot. (not direct sunlight). To keep the stems growing straight, you can rotate the container. The stems will naturally grow towards the light. Bulbs will bloom in 3-4 weeks.

A few tips...
Paperwhite stems can become very tall and leggy as they stretch towards the light and sometimes flop.

To keep the stems from flopping you can keep the stems shorter and stockier by giving them little nip of alcohol. No, that's not a typo! After the shoots are about 3-4", begin watering the plant with a clear alcohol to water mix. Cheap vodka is perfect, at a ratio of 1:7 vodka to water. You can also use rubbing alcohol at 1:10. The stems will stay about 1/3 shorter than they would otherwise but they'll have just as many flowers!

If you missed the window for that little trick or your paperwhites are still flopping, you have two options. First, paperwhites make excellent cut flowers! Cut off any bent stems and display them in a bud vase or mix them with greens for a simple winter arrangement. If you'd rather keep the stems attached to the bulb, use small branches or sticks as stakes for the stems. Use a pretty ribbon or twine as support.

Ready to Grow?
Grab your own paperwhite bulbs from our online shop.

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