How to force paperwhite bulbs indoors
Paperwhites are in the Narcissus family -- along with Daffodils and Jonquils -- and typically, as their name implies, are white. You can, however, find some yellow varieties as well, such as Bethlehem, Israel, Nazareth and Grand Soleil d'Or, but they're still called Paperwhites. The spring-blooming flowers can be forced (tricked, really) into blossoming over the winter. That sounds like a nice treat when your garden is hiding under a blanket of snow.
I've seen pre-packaged Paperwhite forcing kits retail for $9.99 all the way up to $49. They make nice gifts, to be sure. But you can purchase the bulbs for fifty cents apiece (less if you buy in bulk,) gather up some pebbles and grow them in a pot you have at home. It's up to you.
Here's how it's done:
Start with a bowl and some pebbles(Credit: Justine Damiano)
1. Find a shallow (3 - 4 inches deep) bowl or pot without drainage holes. Place an inch or two of small stones, pebbles or gravel at the bottom of your container.
Position bulbs(Credit: Justine Damiano)
2. Set a group of bulbs onto the pebbles, pressing gently to stabilize. Don't worry about overcrowding them -- they look nice, to ensure a succession of blooms all winter.
Add more pebbles(Credit: Justine Damiano)
3. Add another handful or so of pebbles around the bulbs just to hold them in place, but don't cover them.
Water(Credit: Justine Damiano)
4. Add just enough water to reach the base of the bulbs. Any more, and they'll rot. Your only responsibility will be to keep the water at this level.
Place in a cool, dark place, like a closet, for a week or two, or until roots begin to sprout, then relocate to a sunny windowsill, preferably one with a southern or western exposure. At this time, consider replacing water with a gin or vodka dilution.
A cocktail for your paperwhites?! Yes, please.(Credit: St. Germain)
The trouble with paperwhites is that they typically grow tall and leggy, and often flop over, just as their blooms are at their best. To avoid this, stunt their growth:
When roots become visible and the first green shoot reaches 1-2 inches in height, carefully empty the container of water and replace it with a solution of 4-6 percent alcohol (any unsweetened hard liquor, such as gin, scotch, tequila, rum or vodka, will do). This will require a bit of math. (For example, if you are using a 40 percent spirit, and are shooting for a 5 percent alcohol dilution, you'll need to add one part alcohol to seven parts water.) Use this solution to water your paperwhites for the duration of the season, keeping the liquid below bulb level.
The result will be a stockier plant that is one-third shorter than it should be. Blooms will be proficient and long-lasting, and stems will remain upright.
When you begin to see flowers, move the plant out of direct sunlight in order to extend bloom time. You might consider repeating the process, staggering start time, for a succession of blooms.