Just before Thanksgiving I start potting up paperwhite bulbs so I’ll have flowers in time for Christmas. I never tire of these winter-blooming narcissus. Their pure white blossoms add a sweet freshness to my holiday decorating. I have discovered they have a chameleon-like quality that makes them fun to use in a variety of arrangements.
Here are some tips for buying and storing the bulbs:
- Buy only firm, shiny brown-coated bulbs and purchase enough to plant new pots every two weeks for a steady supply of flowers through the winter.
- Store the unplanted bulbs in a brown paper bag in a cool, dry location. Because they don’t require any soil to grow, some of your stored bulbs may begin to sprout and send up shoots. Handle these carefully, and plant those with the longest shoots first. Paperwhites will grow in almost anything, soil, gravel or just plain water. However, my preference is to plant them in soil because the bulbs are well anchored and they tip over less frequently.
- Fill a pot about two-thirds full with moistened potting soil, push the bulbs in, and add more soil to cover the bulbs, leaving about 1-inch of the top of the bulb uncovered.
- Keep the planted bulbs in a warm, light place and growth will begin immediately. A 5-inch pot will hold 3 or 4 bulbs, snuggled against each other.
- Sometimes I top the soil with rye grass seeds which will sprout in no time, creating a mini-meadow scene.
- Keep the plants well watered, and watch the shoots turn green and lengthen. Buds emerge in about three weeks, and blooms will follow a week later.
- Display the flowers in cool locations to keep them looking their best. . Left at room temperatures, the shoots elongate and make the pots top-heavy. To keep them from growing spindly give them plenty of light and turn the container 180 degrees each day. If the light source is too faint or far away, the plant will strain toward the light making the stems weak.
Once they bloom, I like to add paperwhites as elements to create a number of mini-scenes on tables and side boards. Here are a few tricks I’ve learned in creating these displays:
Combine the flowers with contrasting elements such as sprigs of holly, cedar and candles.
Disguise the tops of the bulbs and add interest to the top of the container with sheet moss or small pinecones. The added texture is a fun way to bring another element of design to the arrangement.
The standard way to give paperwhites a little help in standing tall is to add slender sticks next to the flower stalks. As an alternative approach, I found several lichen covered branches and inserted them into the container’s soil then gently wove the flower stalks within them. The twigs gave the display a casual, woodsy feel.
This seasonal arrangement is an excerpt from the fourth book in my Garden Home Series, P. Allen Smith's Living in the Garden. Learn more about this book.