This is a shot taken on January 9 of the first blooms from a Paperwhite bulb started just before New Years. We have a Paperwhites collection but you can also force Amaryllis, Hyacinth, Tulips, and Daffodils.
For those of you who have never forced bulbs before this is probably the easiest garden project you will ever try.
Usually bulbs being sold for forcing come ready to go - often they will even start sprouting in the package! This eliminates the need for a rooting period (12-15 weeks of cold storage).
Paperwhites are tender members of the daffodil (narcissus) family. To force them, all you need are a few bulbs, a watertight container and some pebbles or marbles. Paperwhites grow well in water, and bulbs contain everything else they need to flower. You can force them in soil but they will take about twice as long to bloom.
To force bulbs, choose a glass or ceramic bowl 8 to 10 centimetres tall and 16 centimetres in diameter. Fill container 2/3 full with pebbles or marbles to anchor the roots as they grow. Place bulbs on the pebbles with the pointed end up, They look best when tightly clustered and can even be touching. Add more pebbles to position the bulbs firmly, leaving the top halves of the bulbs exposed. Fill the container with just enough water to touch the base of the bulbs, this will help keep the bulbs from rotting and draw the roots downwards to anchor the plants as they grow taller.
When the plants begin to flower (about 3 weeks after planting), remove them from direct sunlight and place them in a cooler area with indirect light. This helps to prolong the flowering of the plants.
Planting paperwhites in a tall cylindrical hurricane vase not only looks beautiful but also gives the plants added support as they grow taller. You can also plant them in a rustic clay pot with soil for a country kitchen look.
For shorter stems throw in a shot or two of vodka or gin into their water once the shoots reach about five inches tall.
When the buds begin to swell, lightly tie a wide ribbon halfway up the stems and make a bow with trailing ends. Looks pretty and helps the stems stand upright.
Forcing Paperwhites can be an excellent project for kids. They are easy and fast growing. So fast that, once bulbs sprout, kids can measure the leaves and stems daily.
Photography © 2013 Judy Kenzie