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Forcing Paper-white Narcissus
submitted by Don Janssen, UNL Extension Educator
For a breath of spring in the depths of winter, it's hard to beat a pot of flowering paper-white narcissus. Paper-white narcissus are easy and foolproof enough that forcing them to flower is a good project even for elementary school children.
Purchase large, top quality bulbs from a reputable garden center, florist or mail order firm. Pot them anytime after October 1 in either a good houseplant potting mix or in water and pebbles.
A potting mix for narcissus does not need to be especially rich but should be well drained. Anything from a clay pot to a fancy ceramic container will do to hold the medium, as long as it's 3 to 5 inches deep and has holes in the bottom for drainage.
Fill the container so that about one-third of the top of each planted bulb will extend above the top of the pot. Bulbs should be set 1 to 2 inches apart. Set the bulbs on the surface of the potting mix and gently fill in around them. Then water thoroughly from the bottom by standing the pot in a pan of water. After an hour, remove the pot from the pan and allow it to drain. Place the planted pot in a cool, sunny window at room temperature. Or, for better results -- shorter leaves and flower stalks -- place it in a cool (50 to 60 degree F), dark area for about two weeks before moving it to a warmer, sunny location. Check the container and water as necessary to keep the medium moist.
To force narcissus in pebbles and water, select a container 3 to 5 inches deep without drainage holes. Fill it about half full with clean pebbles, gravel up to 1/2 inch in diameter, or marbles. Place the bulbs on this material so that they almost touch one another. Then anchor them by heaping pebbles or gravel around them. Gently pour water in at the side of the container so that it comes up just below the bottoms of the bulbs. (Bulbs tend to decay at the base if water touches them.) Place the container in a cool, dark place for two weeks before placing it in a warm, sunny location. Add water as evaporation and root uptake deplete the supply. Avoid disturbing the bulbs after planting -- roots are fragile.
If you pot up paper-white narcissus bulbs every 10 days or so starting in the fall, you can have a succession of bloom through the winter. Bulbs planted in the early fall will take longer to root and flower than those started in February. Labeling each container with the date planted and the date of flowering will help you plan next year's flowering and planting schedule.
The cooler the room, the longer it will take the bulbs to flower and the longer they will remain in bloom.
Paper-white narcissus are tender bulbs that will not overwinter outdoors easily and they may be forced only once. After the foliage begins to turn yellow, discard the bulbs and the potting medium. (Gravel or marbles may be washed and stored and used again next year.) Wash containers immediately and thoroughly to remove salts and lime deposits.
University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension in Lancaster County is your on-line yard and garden educational resource. The information on this Web site is valid for residents of southeastern Nebraska. It may or may not apply in your area. If you live outside southeastern Nebraska, visit your local Extension office
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