Narcissus papyraceus, a cultivar of Narcissus tazetta, is available during the holiday season and sold as bulb kits or as single bulbs in garden centers. The easy to force bulbs produce clusters of white fragrant flowers can brighten any home in the dead of winter.
Paperwhite narcissus can be easily forced to bloom anytime in winter thru spring because unlike tulips, hyacinths or daffodils, they do not require a cooling period (vernalization)
How to start
Plant the bulbs in groups of 3, 5 or 7 in well-drained soil mix with the top half above the soil line. Water the soil thoroughly and place in a warm location. When the leaves begin to emerge, move the container to a sunny area.
Another popular way to start paperwhites is without a soil medium. Simply place the bulbs close together, flat end(tips up) into a container that has a layer of rocks, marble or gravel in the bottom. Add just enough water to keep the bottom of the bulbs moist but not wet. They should not sit in water or they will rot. It will take about a week for the roots to grow into the water soaked gravel. No fertilizer is required.
When bulbs are planted in the fall (Thanksgiving) blooming will occur in 4-6 weeks, but if planted later in the season they should bloom within 2-3 weeks.
The flowers should last from 1 – 2 weeks, but for optimal longer lasting blooms, move the container to a cool, bright spot out of direct sunlight when the flowers first appear. If grown in too warm temperatures or not enough light, the plant may get tall and top heavy and require some kind of support to keep it from flopping over.
New research by Dr. William B. Miller at Cornell U. has shown that the use of alcohol can shorten the stem length of paperwhite narcissus thus reducing the too tall, flop over problem. Replacing the existing water with a 5% solution (1 part isopropyl alcohol to 10 parts of water) when the shoots are 2 inches tall will keep the foliage and stems at 1/3 to 1/2 shorter than their normal height with no affect on the flowers. Don”t use beer or wine and an alcohol solution no higher than 10%. The reduced growth is believed to be caused by the alcohol making water absorption difficult for the bulb resulting in “water stress”.
Forced paperwhites will not re-bloom; the bulb depletes all its energy in flower production. In Northern climates, they should be enjoyed and then discarded. However, in warmer climates, zone 8-11, Paperwhites can be planted outdoors and may rebloom after a few years of rebuilding the bulb.