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Forcing paperwhite narcissi to bloom adds winter charm to any sunny windowsill. -- Courtesy Shutterstock

Paperwhites’ glamour indoors contrasts with dreary outdoors

By Kristi Hendricks

Master Gardener

In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy.

– William Blake.

January is a great month for enjoying indoor plants and adding a touch of inside glamour to contrast with the often dreary weather conditions outside. Forcing paperwhite narcissi to bloom adds winter charm to any sunny windowsill. And this project is another easy and inexpensive science project for children to enjoy.

Paperwhites don’t need a period of cold darkness as do other bulbs such as tulips and daffodils. Select a shallow, watertight container that will complement the whiteness of the bloom. Choose a container with adequate drainage holes if growing the paperwhites in potting soil.

To grow paperwhites in decorative gravel, fill the container about half full with pea gravel. Alternatively, to grow them in potting soil, place a pottery shard over the drainage hole and fill the pot about half full with potting soil.

Plant the bulbs. Set the bulbs on top of either gravel or soil with their pointed ends up. Place the bulbs close together but not touching. Add more gravel or potting soil so that it covers the bottom two-thirds of the paperwhites, leaving the top one-third of the bulbs exposed.

Water the paperwhites planted in potting soil until the water seeps from the bottom of the pot. Water the paperwhites planted in gravel until it is level with the bottom of the bulbs. The bulbs should not be covered in water.

Check them every few days and water when necessary. Potting soil requires very little water, but don’t let the soil dry out. Water paperwhites in gravel more frequently. Add water as necessary so it is level with the bottom of the bulbs.

Watch as the root system begins to form. For quick flowering, place the container of bulbs directly into regular room temperatures with high light levels. Buds will follow as the roots continue to grow. First blooms should appear in about seven days.

Indoor paperwhites can be quite leggy especially if they don’t receive enough direct sunlight. There is an easy solution for that condition. Cornell University developed a “pickling” method for reducing paperwhite height found at website hort.cornell.edu/. Narcissus ‘Ziva’ paperwhites produce big clusters of snowy white, sweetly fragrant flowers and can be ordered online if not available in local garden centers.

Like boxwood, paperwhites have a particular scent. This narcissus should not be placed as the centerpiece for a family meal, but rather used to showcase a pier mirror, console table or a study windowsill with the dormant lawn as a scenic backdrop.

To learn about forcing other flower bulbs for indoor bloom during the frosty months of winter, review VCE publication HORT-76NP found at pubs.ext.vt.edu/.