Grow a (Paper) White Christmas

Tis the season to start your paperwhites!  Fragrant and easy to grow, Narcissus tazetta commonly known as “paperwhites” are bulbs that are native to warmer climates and grow easily without a chilling period.  This classic indoor bulb is intensely fragrant with elegant star-shaped clusters of white flowers that are popular at holiday time. Once planted, watered and placed in a warm spot they will bloom within 4 to 6 weeks. I always plant mine the first week in November and then plant another group in a few weeks to stage a longer period of bloom and color all season long.

Paperwhites lend themselves to holiday decorating because they can be planted in unusual containers to fit a theme such as teacups and glass bowls. Cluster potted groupings on a mantle or mixed into centerpieces among greenery, berries and bows for a living and fragrant element to your holiday décor.

How to plant:

Gather supplies-

-4 to 6 inch round, 4 inch deep pot. Use terra-cotta or any decorative bowl; just make sure there is a drainage hole in the bottom.

Bulb Beauty- Cobalt beach glass in a clear pot and small chip green glass in a champagne glass.

-3 to 5 Paperwhite bulbs (the most common variety is sold as Paperwhite “Ziva”) Choose bulbs that are firm, with rich brown papery, outside layers. A bit of green stem showing is OK.

-White rock chips or try a touch of creativity by using beach glass, marbles. Use anything heavy enough to keep the bulbs upright.

How to:

In the bottom of the pot, place at least two inches of the base material (rock or glass, etc.). Depending on the size and style of the pot, you may need to go deeper.The bulbs top should set just below the rim of the pot.  Set the bulbs firmly on top of the base; roots down and stem up. A 4 inch pot will hold 3 bulbs and a  6 inch pot holds 5 bulbs. Loosely fill the pot with remaining base material to the rim.  About half of the bulb should be exposed. Water well and place in a warm spot,  away from direct sunlight,  until green shoots emerge to about 4 inches.

Bring the pot into a sunny spot and keep evenly watered. Do not over-water. The blooms will last longer if kept in a cooler area of the home.

Give them a holiday spirit!

Paperwhites tend to get tipsy. The problem is,  the slender stems grow tall with all of the flower weight at the top, making the stems bend and fall over.

Researchers with the Flowerbulb Research Program at Cornell University have remedied a solution to this top-heavy blooms; alcohol. When paperwhite bulbs are grown in a diluted solution of alcohol, the plants reach a height of up to 1/2 their normal growth yet the flower size is not affected and they bloom just as long. The water/alcohol stress on the plants is just enough to stunt their growth, let’s just say it prevents hangover.

The remedy:  Pot your paperwhites as normal. Once the roots begin growing and the green shoot on top reaches about 1 to 2 inches tall, pour off the existing water. Replace the water with a solution of 4 – 6% alcohol, and continue using the alcohol solution for future watering. For more information on the study and tips for success:

www.hort.cornell.edu/miller/bulb/Pickling_your_Paperwhites.pdf


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