Tips for growing Paperwhites indoors

Paperwhite Narcissus bulbs offer speedy production of fragrant indoor flowers during the late fall and winter

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Q. I’d like to try growing the indoor Narcissus plants commonly called “Paperwhites.” When and how are they planted?

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A. Paperwhite Narcissus bulbs are popular for their speedy production of fragrant indoor flowers during the late fall and winter. Planting usually begins in October. As a general rule, the bulbs take between five and six weeks from planting to bloom. As the season for planting them progresses into November and December, planted bulbs tend to take less time to flower. Store purchased Paperwhite bulbs in a cool, dim, airy place until you are ready to plant them.

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Though Paperwhites can be potted in soil, they are most commonly set on a bed of clean pebbles in a bowl or glass container at least 10 cm deep. The bulbs are stabilized with more pebbles layered over the lower third of their depth. To initiate rooting, water is added to the container and maintained at the level of the bulb bases. During the rooting period, the bowl is placed in a cool, dark place.

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Once a root mass can be seen when the pebbles are pushed carefully aside (or they can be seen through the sides of a glass container), the planting can be brought gradually into brighter light as foliage develops and flower stems lengthen.

Planting Paperwhites in soil follows roughly the same procedure except that pots with drainage holes must be used and a third of the bulb is left exposed above the soil line. Watering is simpler. Just keep the soil barely moist during rooting and water regularly once top growth starts lengthening. Soil-grown Paperwhites tend to produce longer-lasting flowers.

You will find several Paperwhite varieties in most garden centres. Erlicheer bears creamy white double flowers. Grand Soleil d’Or is yellow. Chinese Sacred Lily has white petals and a golden yellow cup. Ziva is all white. The blossoms of all these varieties are perfumed. A variety called Inbal is unscented.

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