Learn creative ways to present winter blooms by forcing paperwhite narcissus bulbs. Paperwhite Narcissus are winter blooming tender bulbs native to climates which do not have a cold period. You can plant them at 2-week intervals to spread out the bloom. Allow 3 to 4 weeks from start to bloom, depending on the growing temperatures.
You can pot these bulbs several different ways. One method is to fill the selected container full of a bagged potting soil. Place the bulbs side by side in the pot, then fill around them with pebbles to hold the bulbs in place. More soil can be used to add to the support. Also consider planting annual ryegrass, moss or baby tears in the container to create a carpet of green.
Another planting method is to eliminate the soil and support the bulbs just with stones or glass beads. Make sure the depth of the stones is enough to firmly support the bulbs. Then, add enough water to just cover the bottom of the bulbs. Any more water will cause the bulbs to rot. If the bulbs are in soil they don’t need to be watered as often as when they are in a soil-less media.
After planting, hold the containers in a warm environment- like the top of the refrigerator- until they shoot leaves. Then transfer them to a bright, but not direct, sunny window. Low light leads to stretching and flopping.
Flopping is a common problem with paperwhites. Yet, recent research has found that using a diluted solution of alcohol will result in paperwhites that are about half as tall, but with equal sized flowers that last as long as normal! To try this trick, plant the bulbs as described above and water as you normally would. Wait about one week until roots are growing and the green shoot is about 1” to 2” above the top of the bulb. At this point, pour off the water (or if your paperwhites are planted in soil, then just begin watering with the alcohol solution) and replace it with a solution of 4 to 6% alcohol, made from any “hard” liquor. You can do the calculations to figure the dilution, but, as an example, to get a 5% solution from a 40% distilled spirit (e.g., gin, vodka, whiskey, rum, tequila); you add 1 part of the alcohol to 7 parts of water. If you do not have alcohol for consumption in your household, rubbing alcohol (isopropyl alcohol) works just as well. Since this is usually 70% alcohol when purchased, a dilution of 1 part rubbing alcohol to 10 or 11 parts water is appropriate. The results will quickly be noticeable! Though the reason for this change is not exactly understood, researchers believe that the alcohol restricts the water use in the plant, resulting in stunted growth. This can be a fun experiment to try with kids or a creative gift idea for co-workers, family, and friends.