Paperwhite Narcissus for Christmas Bloom: Forcing Starts Now

Paperwhites for Christmas 2009 as they came into bud.

I reviewed forcing paperwhites by reading again from ‘The Fragrant Year’ by Helen Van Pelt Wilson, published in 1967. I decided to use the tin with the painted monkey again with a liner to protect the container, a cobalt canister with a missing lid and two glass cylinders that held Amaryllis for forcing last Christmas. I do not recommend forcing Amaryllis in water. I’ve already potted 3 Amaryllis in clay pots and soil.

Narcissus and Charcoal
Narcissus and Charcoal

I bought 25 Narcissus Bulbs in a box when bulbs first appeared on shelves. These have been in a cool place inside the house. I also bought a container of charcoal in the aquarium department. It is in little flakes intended for a filter. It will keep the water in the containers from souring and smelling bad.

Nacissus Bulbs
Nacissus Bulbs

These bulbs are a good size. They must know when it is time to get going, they already are sending out sprouts.

River Rock

I use river rock that comes in bags at the nursery or big box store. I like the look of natural stones in glass. It doesn’t matter in closed containers, black stones that came with last year’s amaryllis kits would be fine. Here the glass cylinder bases are planted. A sample of river rock is shown in the cat’s water bowl.

Flat Marbles
Flat Marbles

Glass marbles are an alternative to stones. They would add some glitter to the display. I use these in glass containers filled with water to add humidity to the greenhouse.

Container with bulbs
Lidless Canister with stones and bulbs

The Cobalt Canister has 3 inches of stones and enough additional pebbles to hold the bulbs in place. The narcissus stems will grow up out of the container and I hope the sides will help keep the stems from flopping. The same principle applies to the tall glass containers, stems should be supported if my plan works. Otherwise, I’ll tie them up with raffia.

Bulbs Ready for Growing

There is controversy as to whether bulbs should be kept in the dark until sprouts grow. The late Jim Crockett of the Victory Garden in the 1970’s said his daughter successfully grew them without the dark period. I’ve been skipping that part ever since. Mama always put hers in the dark fruit closet with jars of vegetables and grape juice until they sprouted.

Any Container that will Hold Water is Suitable

 To review:

  1. Any Container that holds water and a few inches of stones will work. You may prefer that your bulbs peek over the top of the container and to support them with bamboo sticks and string. I could have used the casserole dish in the background if it wasn’t full of rooting stems of alternanthera.
  2. Keep the water level just below the bottom of the bulbs. The roots will seek the water. Add some charcoal to keep the water sweet. Alternately you could just pour off any water that sours and add fresh water. If the bottom of the bulbs stay wet they could rot and sour.
  3. Keeping the bulbs in the dark until sprouts appear is a matter of preference. Since my bulbs had already commenced sprouting it was moot.
  4. Bulbs started mid-November should bloom in time for Christmas. Keeping them warmer or cooler will speed or slow growth. These are tender bulbs and do not need a period of chill.

The usual advice is to toss paperwhites after they’ve been
forced. I never throw away a firm bulb. These recovered when
I planted them out. Usually they rebloom the second year.

Secrets of a Seedscatterer



  1. Nell Jean

     /  November 20, 2011

    My suggestions for new blog writers is to write about what you know. Do not try to disguise a sales site with a lot of wordy prose. Put your weathervanes out there on the blog without a link in the body of your posts. It merely annoys readers, the link.

    My childhood home had a weathervane. I use my American flag as a weathervane.

  2. Nell Jean

     /  November 10, 2011

    The cobalt canister turned out to have a leak. I removed the bulbs and stones and reset them in a square plastic container that I fashioned from the bottom of a soap container. Now to find a square cache pot when I go to the city again.

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