This is narcissus…

This is narcissus papyraceus (from papyrus and aceus; meaning paper-like, commonly known as paperwhites. Theyre from the Mediterranean, but have naturalized in areas like California and Louisiana; theyre from the same family as daffodils, and are strongly fragrant (I like the scent, but not everyone does). Whats brilliant about paperwhites, as opposed to all the other bulbs I know of, is that they dont require chilling to force bloom. I still havent tried chilling bulbs to get them to bloom indoors  its on the list!  but Ive been buying and growing paperwhites for many years, with much joy (and ease!).

My paperwhites are finishing, and Im trying to decide if Im sad enough about that to swing by Home Depot and pick up one more set, if they have any left. I think so. I cant remember when I first discovered them, but for years now, paperwhites have brightened my winters remarkably affordably  you can often find them for roughly 50 cents  a dollar / bulb, and just a few bulbs are enough for a pot  one is enough, really, if its a good one. Most nurseries are sold out now, but if you can find Ziva or Ariel paperwhites, those are strong, hardy bulbs (Ariel blooms earlier than Ziva, typically).

Normally I would still have some on hand, but we had guests for the holidays, so I tried to schedule a big mass of them to bloom at Christmas, which pretty much worked! You just need to be a little careful with your timing  bulbs can be held for weeks after arrival in a warm, dark closet, and then you just need to plant them about 4-6 weeks before you want them to flower. So pick them up before November 1st if you want masses of delicate white flowers on tall stems for Christmas.

The stems do have a tendency to droop  Ive read that if you add alcohol to the water, that will stunt the growth, alleviating the issue, and I might try that at some point. But the full height adds to their graceful appearance, and I find that copper amaryllis stakes (available on Amazon or at Gardeners Supply Company) beautifully support the stems and even add to the overall beauty of their presentation. Alternately, place them near the bottom of a tall, clear glass vessel, so that the walls of glass support the stems as they grow.

Friends often ask me whether theyll come back year after year, and I must sadly tell them no  paperwhites bloom once, and are gone. But they provide weeks of interest, from the first shoots coming out of the bulbs to the growing green stems (so refreshing a color in the dead of winter), to the final explosion of starry white flowers, which last beautifully (and make a good cut flower as well, should the stems start getting too tall to stand unsupported).

Best of all, theyre tremendously easy to grow, so a great choice for a beginner gardener. All you need is a container of some sort (I prefer glass, because I like seeing the roots climb through the rocks, but opaque is also fine), some rocks to fill the bottom, and your bulbs. Nestle the bulbs just a little ways into the rocks, and then fill with water just to the base of the bulbs. If you let the bulk of the bulb sit in water, it will start to rot; it may still send up shoots and flowers, but itll smell bad and turn the water dark. Place in a reasonably sunny spot, and periodically check to make sure theres still some water at the base of the bulb. Thats it!

If you plant them at 2-4 week intervals, you can keep the show running all winter long. Alternately, you can plant the bulbs in potting mix (dont plant too deeply), but I think you miss out on the beauty of roots and rocks then. Little vases for forcing fit well on windowsills and other small spaces  every winter, I find myself trying to see where I can squeeze in just one more paperwhite.

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