A container of paperwhite narcissus in full bloom is a remarkable sight.
(ALBERT PARSONS/FOR THE SUN)
Choose a container whose shape resembles that of a rose bowl. (ALBERT PARSONS/FOR THE SUN)
Choose bulbs that have multiple shoots to get the most bloom. (ALBERT PARSONS/FOR THE SUN)
The Christmas season has passed, we have ushered in the New Year and the pace of life for some of us has slowed down considerably.
We just might want to create a little interest in our winter gardens and plant something to bring some colour and life to our mid-winter interior landscapes.
Although we may have missed the Boxing Day sales, there will probably be some lingering bargains available at retail shops as well as garden centres. One of these bargains will be the leftover winter bulbs like paperwhite narcissus.
These bulbs come on the market in November and are offered in bulk — although the only place in our area that offers them in bulk to my knowledge is Lindenberg’s (thanks Rick!). Most places seemed to offer the kits which include bulbs, container and planting medium, and for those who don’t have all the gardening paraphernalia on hand like some of us, these are perhaps a good choice.
However, I would just as soon put all my money into buying bulbs as I have enough supplies on hand to be able to pot up dozens of containers of bulbs if I so choose. Basically, all you need for this project is a container, some stones, and the bulbs.
The container you choose should be in the shape of a rose bowl — that is, wider in the middle than at its mouth. You don’t want the mouth to be too narrow, however, or the number of bulbs you will be able to fit into the container will be limited.
You can usually get between four and six bulbs into such a container depending on the size of the bulbs and the width of the container. Choose bulbs that are multi-nosed — they will have several leaf buds emerging from the bulbs, not just one per bulb.
The bulbs will have been picked over by this time and you may not even be able to see the bulbs sold in a kit as it will be packaged tightly. In such a case, you may have to get some reassurance from the retailer that you can return the kit if you find the bulbs are not viable.
Generally, the bulbs should still be in relatively good shape but some of the kits will have been packaged months ago, so caution is advised. I much prefer to buy my paperwhites from the bulk bin so that I can see what I am getting.
Fill the container part full of stones, pebbles, or even marbles if you wish. Set the bulbs on top of the stones — the tops of the bulbs should be a few centimetres below the lip of the container.
Place the bulbs very close together; in fact, they can touch each other. Fill in the spaces around the bulbs with more stones and cover the shoulders of the bulbs as well.
Your goal is to anchor the bulbs in place so that as they develop their roots — and they have extensive root systems — the bulbs will not be pushed up and out of the container.
Add enough water to cover the bottom half of the bulbs. Place the container in bright light; a sunny windowsill works well and a light garden is ideal.
The warmer the location, the sooner the plants will develop so you may want to set the container back from a chilly window on cool nights. Too little light will cause the developing plants to be weak and spindly and require support.
A container of blooming paperwhites is a beautiful sight. Their small cup-shaped flowers are produced in clusters on sturdy stems that grow amid the vertical leaves and are about 35 centimetres tall.
The leaves are long and narrow and will support themselves and remain erect if the plants are getting enough light. If too many of the leaves fall over, you may want to jab a small bamboo or plastic stake into the container and wrap a piece of gardening twine or attractive ribbon around the whole display to give the leaves support.
The blooms will last for almost two weeks after which the display can be dismantled. The bulbs will be consigned to the compost pail, and the stones washed and allowed to dry, to be used again another year.
Paperwhites are very aromatic and there are people who find the scent too overpowering. If you are rather sensitive to scents, you may want to pass on growing paperwhites.
A container of four or five paperwhite bulbs in full bloom, their pure white blooms displayed against the dark green foliage, is just the kind of pick-me-up I need in the dead of winter. Plant a container now and by month’s end you will be delighted with the results.
Albert Parsons is a consultant for garden design and landscaping who lives in Minnedosa.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition January 4, 2013