One of the easiest ways to fill the winter season with fragrance is to grow Paperwhite Narcissus. This bulb, Narcissus tazetta, is a tender plant, so it won’t survive outdoors in most areas of the country. But we don’t care about that… hardy spring-blooming bulbs are, well, maybe not a dime a dozen, but extremely plentiful anyway. Paperwhites, however, are easy to grow indoors, providing clusters of white flowers and perfume in the season when we need it most. And unlike most bulbs that require a period of dark, cool temperatures, Paperwhites will grow and bloom without waiting…even without soil!
Here is what you do: buy several bulbs, as many as will fit in the container you plan to use. Plan to crowd them…this is not the time to be stingy. Narcissus will grow in a shallow bowl surrounded with pebbles, a low pot filled with dirt, or even a tall clear vase that is wide enough to hold a cluster of bulbs set on top of some rocks.
Whether you use pebbles, marble chips or dirt, put a shallow layer of your chosen planting medium in the bottom of your dish, and place the bulbs on top of this layer… Cover the bulbs with the soil or rocks leaving the tips of the bulbs exposed.
Wet the planted Narcissus bulbs until the water reaches the base of the bulbs; the soil or rocks in the bottom of the container keep the bulbs from staying too damp. Put the finished container in a sunny window, and remember to water just before it gets dry.
If you plant the bulbs in the early fall, you will wait a few weeks until bloom, but if you plant those same bulbs around New Year’s they will bloom in two to three weeks. This is because the flower buds continue to develop in the bulb over time, even if the bulb is not planted.
A common complaint about Paperwhite is that they get too tall and top-heavy as they bloom, which causes the stems to flop or bend. If this bothers you, plan for the support of the stems to be a decorative element. A bush of twiggy branches stuck into the pot, a small homemade fence around the container, or a small wire obelisk will look good and be a support for aging stems.
Planting several bulbs in a glass vase that is both tall and wide is another way to contain tall Narcissus stems. Put two or three inches of pebbles in the bottom of the vase, and place and cover the bulbs as previously described. When the stems are tall and blooming they will be nicely arranged in, and supported by, the sides of the vase.