Forcing Paperwhite Bulbs for Holiday Blooms

By the time Christmas rolls around, trees have dropped their leaves and the landscape is pretty bleak. It’s no wonder we’re more than ready to decorate our homes with holiday greenery. Evergreen garlands, wreaths and trees are a great start but wouldn’t it be great to add blooming flowers to the holiday merriment?

You don’t have to spend a fortune on fresh cut flowers. In fact, it’s cheaper and easier to grow your own. If you’ve never tried it—forcing springtime bulbs like paperwhites to bloom during the winter is a fun project for the whole family.

These delicate white flowers make unexpected gifts, a fragrant centerpiece for your holiday table or an understated display for the mantel. Make cultivating paperwhites a yearly tradition—they’re the perfect flower for the holidays.

Different Techniques
Paperwhite bulbs are happy in a variety of containers and growing media. You can purchase the bulbs individually and use containers you already have on hand or buy kits that include everything you need—bulbs, growing medium and containers.

1. Place a layer of pebbles or river rock in shallow containers or clear glass cylinders of varying sizes. Cradle the bulbs in the rocks to keep them upright and steady. Don’t allow the bulbs to touch each other. Maintain the water level so it just hits the bottom of the bulb and goes no higher.

2. Forcing vases are designed to sprout and grow individual bulbs in water. A single bulb per vase can create big impact when multiple vases are grouped together. These glass vases are perfect for small spaces like windowsills and narrow counters. The bulbs perch on the opening at the top of the vase. Fill the vase so the water level is touching the base of the bulb.

3. When planting in soil, make sure your container has holes to ensure proper drainage. You can recycle the same pots you use for summer plants. Place three bulbs in a 4-inch pot, four bulbs in a 6-inch pot and so on. Fill the pot with regular potting soil, ensuring one-third of each bulb is above the soil line.

Move the pots into a cool, dark area for one week to establish root growth. Then place the pots in a warm, sunny room to encourage stem growth. As the stems sprout, rotate the pots every day or so to keep the plants upright and straight. Once the paperwhites begin to bloom, move them into a cooler location away from direct sunlight. Keep the soil moist but not soggy.

Care and Maintenance
Tying leggy paperwhites to a slender stakes or simply cinching the plants with decorative raffia will support the stems and keep them from drooping. It may be a little too late to see your paperwhites bloom by Christmas day, but if you plant now you can expect an abundant floral display for New Year’s Eve and beyond.

To ensure staggered blooming cycles throughout the winter, plant groups of bulbs several weeks apart. You’ll see blooms within four to six weeks. Once the blooms are spent, the plants won’t reflower—reuse your pebbles and containers for a new crop!

Petals from the Past  
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