One of our favorite traditions during every Christmas season is to bring a bit of the garden indoors during a time when most of our plants are resting. We do this by forcing bulbs, specifically the bulbs of the Paperwhite Narcissus. To "force" a bulb means to coax them to bloom indoors out of season. There are many bulbs that can be forced, but we have found the Paperwhite to be the easiest. It does not require a chilling period for the bulb before you begin and can be done in a simple glass jar with rocks or pebbles, instead of soil.
How to force the Paperwhite Narcissus bulb:
Purchase bulbs. Paperwhite bulbs are often sold at hardware stores at the beginning of the Christmas season or online. After bringing the bulbs home, we like to peel any loose bits of the brown outer layer before beginning.
Find a clear glass jar or vase. They can be any size, but we have found that taller jars help support the stem of the flower as it begins to grow. (Paperwhites will grow twelve to fourteen inches.)
Layer an inch or two of rocks or pebbles at the bottom of the vase to give the roots space to grow.
Place the bulb root side down into the rocks or pebbles. The larger the vase, the more bulbs you can use. Feel free to squeeze them in tightly, as long as all the bulbs have room to grow up and form roots below.
Pour water into the vase so just the bottom of the bulbs is touching the water. If too much of the bulb is covered, it will get soggy and rotten. The bulb will absorb water, so you will need to periodically add water to keep the bottom of the bulb touching the water.
Place the vase in an area of the house away from windows, until you see signs that the bulbs have rooted. When you see fleshy white roots poking through the bottom of the bulb, you can move the vase to a sunny windowsill.
The Paperwhite Narcissus will begin to produce clusters of small white flowers within four to six weeks. For Christmas blooms, begin forcing your bulbs around the third week of November. The flowers of most varieties produce a moderate to strong musky fragrance. We have several people in our home that enjoy the smell and a few that don’t!
Forcing Paperwhite bulbs is a lovely way to bring a bit of green and bloom into your home during the Christmas season. Additionally, prepared forced bulb vases make beautiful homemade gifts.