By the time Christmas rolls around, trees have dropped their leaves and the landscape is pretty bleak. It’s no wonder we’re more than ready to decorate our homes with holiday greenery. Evergreen garlands, wreaths and trees are a great start, but wouldn’t it be great to add blooming flowers to the holiday merriment?
You don’t have to spend a fortune on fresh-cut flowers. In fact, it’s cheaper and easier to grow your own. If you’ve never tried it, forcing springtime bulbs like paperwhites to bloom during the winter is a fun project for the whole family.
These delicate white flowers make unexpected gifts, a fragrant centerpiece for your holiday table or an understated display for the mantel. Make cultivating paperwhites a yearly tradition—they’re the perfect flower for the holidays.
Paperwhites (Narcissus papyraceus) are virtually foolproof to grow using nothing more than water, soil or pebbles. Even a novice gardener or child can force these indoor plants to bloom during the winter months. Several varieties of paperwhites are available, ranging from snow white to soft yellow.
They live happily in a variety of vessels and growing media. Paperwhites grow well in soil, decorative gravel and/or water. You can purchase bulbs individually and use pots you already have on hand or find a kit that includes everything you need—bulbs, growing medium and containers. Once they're planted, they'll bloom within four to six weeks.
Move the containers into a cool, dark area for one week to establish root growth. Then place them in a warm, sunny location to encourage hardy stems. As they sprout, rotate them every day or so to keep the plants upright and straight. Once the paperwhites begin to bloom, move them into a cooler location away from direct sunlight. Keep them moist but not soggy.
Tying leggy paperwhites to slender stakes or simply cinching the plants with decorative raffia or ribbon will support the stems and keep them from drooping. If you wait until Thanksgiving, it will be a little too late to see your paperwhites bloom by Christmas day. However, you can expect an abundant floral display for the New Year. To create a staggered blooming cycle throughout the winter, plant groups of bulbs several weeks apart.
While paperwhites are easy to cultivate indoors, they are considered annuals that typically bloom only one time. Even though they're commonly grown in North America, these flowers are really tropical perennials that love year-round warm and humid climates.
After they've been forced indoors, it is rare that they will survive outside. When the blooms are spent, the plants will not reflower. The foliage turns yellow and that tells you it's time to dump them in the compost bin. Sterilize the pebbles and containers and store them away for the next holiday season.
© 2018 Linda Chechar