Forcing Narcissus Paperwhites

I am in a very experimental mood at the moment: throwing the rule book out and trying different things!  For an example of this insanity see my post on the giant cyclamen corm. Anyway, this week’s experiment isn’t so radical as it is based on common practice, so Mr Colborn tells us.  I read his post a couple of years ago and was intrigued and wanted a go.  I forgot last year but this year I was on the case and determined to source Narcissus Paperwhite bulbs to have a go at forcing them indoors.  I think I got a little carried away as going through the bulbs I have to deal with I have about 20 Narcissus Paperwhite.  I know I wanted to do a couple of bowls and stagger them over a few weeks but I suspect I will end up with 4 bowls and be genuinely fed up with Narcissus by the end of Spring!!!

Anyway, Mr Colborn’s instructions are as follows:

  1. take a bowl, an old salad bowl  is perfect, and put a thick layer of grit or gravel in the bottom
  2. stand you bulbs on top of the  gravel
  3. add water until it just reaches the base of the bulbs
  4. then fill in and decorate with pebbles or something similar.  I used Japanese Black Pebbles which are quite nice but I only chose  them as that was all the garden centre had.  They do look a bit like mussels in the photo below.
  5. Place on a bright windowsill and top up the water as necessary

I am assuming that the reason this works is that the bulb is full of everything the plant needs to grow but what I’m not sure what to do with  the bulbs when they have finished flowering.  I don’t like throwing bulbs away after one season.  Surely in order for them to be viable next spring they need feeding ans therefore need some soil.  I will have to investigate further but I have time.

I’m quite pleased to have finally done the first bowl, particularly as I am nursing my second head cold in three weeks, although it might just be the same cold and I am feeling very frustrated that I can’t get on with things in the garden.

19 Comments on “Forcing Narcissus Paperwhites

  1. I don’t think you’ll get fed up with Paper White, so delicously scented and elegant.
    I think that when they have finished flowering you can plant them out. Bulbs, all bulbs need feeding after flowering, hence the nasty mess you have to leave with the daffodil foliage dying back. That said, I actually think many bulbs should just be treated as annuals. They cost so little and give so much pleasure that certaily with tulips I often plant them into pots, maybe layered with other smaller bulbs flowering at different times and when they are finished plant the whole pot somewhere in the garden. If they flower the following year it’s a bonus! Enjoy your Paper White

  2. Damn – another thing I have completely forgotton to do this year. I shall have to live the experience through your blog.

    Like the mussel shells by the way.

    • Dawn – you’ve still got loads of time, go and get some bulbs now, project for kids?

  3. this is such a simple but brilliant idea, I plan to try it to see if it will work for me. presumably the stones will look less mussel-like when interpersed with greenery. Although mussels and daffs ? Could become all the rage (lol)

  4. Must, must get mine in soon! Not sure what happens to spent Paperwhites but worth tipping them out somewhere to see what transpires. Sorry to hear that you are under the weather again – take care Helen and get well soon.

  5. I always plant several bowls of Paperwhites each year and they reliably perform with practically no effort but they are tender so will not survive if you plant them out in the garden after flowering. (If you buy them wholesale they are sooo cheap that it doesn’t feel too bad throwing them away!)

  6. Dear Helen, Paperwhite Narcissus are an anual institution for me. I do not believe that one can have too many as they are so elegant and have such a delicious scent. I am sure that they will be lovely.

  7. I’m so glad you posted the instructions! I bought two bags of bulbs a couple of weeks ago and wondered exactly what I needed to do ~ you’ve made the discovery process much easier 😉 I can’t imagine you’d get tired of them. They are so pretty and there won’t be much else going on in the garden to attend to!

  8. For some reason where I live they being to bloom now up into December–no forcing required. Many years ago I shopped the markdown bins in the grocery stores where they’d parked the faded paperwhite plants that were otherwise unsaleable. For almost no money I built up a large supply of paperwhite bulbs that I planted around the garden. Almost all the plants returned to bloom the following year, and most began to multiply prolifically. So, once yours are done blooming, definitely give them some nutritious earth to recharge their batteries for next season. Hopefully yours will come back!

  9. This reminds me that Christmas is coming! I love the smell of paperwhites during the holidays. I look forward to seeing how well yours grow!

  10. Helen, I always want to add more water, since I am prone to letting them dry out…either way they are not happy with me! I am lol at the muscle comment. gail

  11. I tried forcing them for the first time last year, I love their scent and think 20 would be perfect all blooming at once.
    I hope your cold is better soon, seems everyone around here either has one or just got over one.

  12. Thanks for sharing the instructions! I have never tried forcing bulbs but since it looks so easy I shall give it a whirl, just in time for the holidays. I hope you enjoy your blooms!

  13. Sorry you aren’t feeling well Helen ~ all the more impressed you are thinking ahead with a cloudy “head!”
    I love forcing paperwhites. I keep containers going all winter but I buy the bulbs a few at a time (I’m lucky that our greenhouse sells them all winter long.)
    I usually plant them in aquarium gravel but haven’t ever decorated the top like you’ve done. I’m sure you’ll love having something bloom during the cold season ~ I know I do even tho I’m not fond of their fragrance.

  14. PS I always throw the bulbs out when they’re done blooming ~ I know you said you didn’t want to do that. I guess you could plant them in the garden?? I do that with forced hyacinth bulbs and they usually come back and bloom for me the following spring. Good luck!

  15. I am looking for the best price for paperwhites and have found one site bloomingbulb selling them .35 each for 100. Anyone have any other suggestions?

  16. @Kathleen, when you say you plant the hyacinths outdoors after forcing, do you mean forcing in water or soil? And do you ever try forcing the same bulb a second time?

Please feel free to leave comments as its always lovely to get feedback. I try to respond to comments as much as possible but sometimes life and work get in the way but I will do my best to respond especially if your comment is a question.

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