Paper Whites 101
Growing Paper Whites is fun, festive and super easy! An elegant addition to the Thanksgiving table, a charming companion to Poinsettias for the holidays or just a bright spot of sunshine to liven up those long gray winter days! Narcissus tazetta is a fragrant flowering bulb related to Daffodils that does not require several weeks of cold temperatures to initiate flowering. With staggered planting times you can grow these cheerful pure white blooms indoors all winter long.
You can plant the bulbs in the traditional way using soil in a shallow container with a drainage hole in the bottom but I like the simple, clean, modern look that uses stone, gravel, colorful pebbles or even marbles in a leak proof glass or bowl. Choose whatever vessel you like, a vase, a shallow bowl, a ball jar or maybe a tall apothecary glass.
To use the water and stone method, fill the bottom of your container with 4 to 6 inches of pebbles. Place your bulbs flat side down in a slight depression on top of the rock about an inch apart then add a little bit more stone between the bulbs to keep them from falling over. Pour fresh clean water into the gravel stopping just below the base of the bulb. You do not want the bulb itself to sit in the water! If it does, it will rot. Once planted, keep the bulbs in a cool dark room between 50 and 60 degrees for several days to allow for strong root development. Once the bulbs have developed a nice root system move the container to a cool sunny location and in about four to six weeks you will see the tiny blossoms developing on the flower stems.
Paper Whites have tall thick stems and strappy cool green foliage but sometimes they can become overly tall and floppy mostly due to low levels of light or growing temperatures that are too warm. Researchers at Cornell University have discovered that adding 5% alcohol to the water of your growing plants can help to keep the growth more compact. If you would like to try it, you can use rubbing alcohol or clear liquor. Do not use beer or wine these can damage your plant. Most clear liquors are 40% alcohol (80 proof) while rubbing alcohol is about 70% alcohol so the recipe for each mix is different. Be sure to follow the mixing directions closely because too much alcohol will damage the foliage. If you choose to make a cocktail for your bulbs with clear liquor, mix 7 parts water with one part liquor. With rubbing alcohol use a mix of 1 part alcohol with 10 or 11 parts water. Follow the starting directions above until the shoots on the plant are about 2 inches tall. Then pour off the water and add the alcohol mix replacing it periodically as it evaporates with additional mix. If you follow this recipe your plants will be about one third shorter but the flowering time will remain the same.
Have fun and Happy Gardening!