Garden Dilemmas, Delights & Discoveries, Ask Mary Stone, New Jersey Garden blog

Pretty Paperwhites for Christmas

Stone Associates, Garden Dilemmas Ask Mary Stone

Hello fellow readers,

It’s starting already—gardening withdrawals. Margaret of Washington asked how to force Paperwhite bulbs which reminds me of a simple winter withdrawal remedy that makes a wonderful Christmas gift. It’s as easy as putting the Narcissus papyraceus bulbs in water with gravel. In a few weeks, you’ll have fragrant white flowers. Instant delight!

Choose a wide-mouthed container that’s about 4 inches deep with no drainage holes. Spread an inch or two of marbles or stones. Position your Paperwhite bulbs side by side, pointy end up, on top of the stone layer. The tight fit will help keep them from toppling over, and a grouping is more appealing. Add another layer of stones to fill in gaps, covering the bulbs just above the widest part, keeping their pointy tips above the stones.

Add water up to the bottom of the bulbs as if they’re sitting on the water, and maintain that level throughout. Too much water will cause the bulbs to rot. They prefer to be cool, say 65 degrees, and don’t need sunlight until they develop roots. Once they do, move them to a sunny but cool window. Too much warmth will cause them to grow leggy and flop over. Once in flower, move them out of direct sunlight so the blooms will last longer.

It turns out paperwhites enjoy a cocktail party. No kidding! A continuous drink of alcohol keeps them from toppling over, which is the opposite effect it has on me.

Once the green shoots grow about 2 inches, pour off the water and replace it with a solution of 4 to 6 percent alcohol mixed with water and use the same solution for watering. You can use any hard liquor (vodka, tequila, whiskey) or rubbing alcohol. Skip the wine or beer, though, as they’re too high in sugar. More is not merrier either, as too much alcohol will overdose your plant, causing severe problems.

You can start a new pot every couple of weeks for a continuous bloom to help you through the winter blues. Maybe it’s best to allow your Paperwhites to drink alone, though. People may begin to talk.

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Column Updated 12/19/21

Mary Stone, owner of Stone Associates Landscape Design & Consulting. As a Landscape Designer, I am grateful for the joy of helping others beautify their surroundings which often leads to sharing encouragement and life experiences. These relationships inspired my weekly column published in THE PRESS, 'Garden Dilemmas? Ask Mary', began in 2012. I dream of growing the evolving community of readers into an interactive forum to share encouragement and support in Garden and Personal Recoveries - seeking nature’s inspirations, stimulating growth, weeding undesirables, embracing the unexpected. Thank you for visiting! Mary

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