Forcing Narcissus

Paperwhite narcissus add life to the holidays

Paperwhite Narcissus

Paperwhite narcissus are one of the prettiest and easiest ways to enliven your home during the dark winter months. When everything is dormant outside, covered in snow, or grey and wet, your narcissus will be blooming indoors scenting the air with its delightful fragrance. Because of the ease of getting results, it's a great project to share with your kids.

Forcing narcissus

Bulbs can be purchased a few at a time or by the bag. It's easy to take the economy route and plan for a succession of bloom times. For less than you'd spend on a single bouquet, you can have a pot of low maintenance narcissus for a couple weeks.

At the nursery, look for bulbs that have been conditioned for forcing. Usually the bin or bag will show a picture of the flowering bulb and indicate whether it's good for forcing. Choose large, firm bulbs. Set aside any that are damaged or soft.

You can plant your narcissi in bulb bowls or flower pots using pea gravel or potting soil.

Place your freshly potted bulbs in a cool, dark room, porch, or basement until you start to see sprouts emerge. Once you see the new growth, put your pots on a sunny window sill where they can get plenty of light. Cool nights ensure compact growth and can help avoid legginess.

Timing for the holidays

Planning a succession of pots can guarantee that you have flowers for the holidays that are always fresh and at the top of their bloom. Starting a pot by the second or third week of October should provide blossoms for Thanksgiving. Narcissus takes about 3 to 4 weeks to bloom and blooms last about two weeks. By starting a pot every week for six weeks, you would have plenty of flowers through New Year's.

Saving your bulbs

Bulbs that have been cultivated for forcing are more or less designed to go out in a blaze of glory. This seems to be particularly true of paperwhites that have been forced in gravel. However, some gardeners are always up for a challenge so you can see what happens with your bulbs if you want to try to save them.

Once your paperwhites have finished blooming, leave them in the pot and let the bulbs store energy. Leave them in a sunny window spot and continue to water them. Because the foliage starts to fade and die back, they aren't terribly attractive, so find a window where they can photosynthesize but aren't on view. When the ground outside is no longer frozen, plant the bulbs in a loose soil with a bit of bone meal. Plant them about 5 to 6 inches deep. Spring rains should do the rest. Don't allow them to dry out. The bulbs will go dormant over the spring and summer. Move them when you plant your fall bulbs, if you wish. They should come up fine the following spring.


Holiday mania may be fast approaching, so the best way to avoid an implosion is with a plan and by hiring someone to do the heavy lifting. A maid service for instance can help with annual cleaning chores that you may not have time to handle. A qualified service is available through Small Repairs at NextStep Remodeling .

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