Originally created 12/29/00

Paperwhite gardens

Looking for a fragrant colorful floral display to liven up those cold dreary winter months? Paperwhite narcissus may be your answer. Because they don't require a dormancy period to bloom, these bulbs can be planted and forced to bloom inside.

"They're really easy to grow," said Jo Agostas, a master gardener, member of Pine Needle Garden Club and National Flower Show Council judge.

Paperwhites are a type of daffodil that originated in the Mediterranean. They are tender bulbs and can only be grown outdoors in zones 8 to 11, south of middle Georgia.

Most other bulbs need to be planted in the fall and go through the winter in dormancy in order to bloom in the spring. Paperwhites are from warm climates so they need no dormancy period.

Paperwhites can be grown in soil, pebbles, sand, gravel, stones or even just plain water. They bloom four to eight weeks after potting.

They require a medium with very good drainage. "The drainage is an important part," said Mrs. Agostas. "If you don't have good drainage, you won't see them next year."

Start with an inch or two of potting soil, pebbles or another well-draining medium, in a shallow decorative container. Place the bulbs close together with the pointed ends up. Add more potting medium to keep them in place still leaving the top half of the bulbs uncovered. No fertilizer is needed.

Water the bulbs until the water level touches the bottom of the bulbs and maintain that level. Place the container in a cool, 55- to 60-degree room with indirect sunlight until the shoots are 1 to 2 inches tall. Bulbs started in a warm room or grown with too faint a light source tend to be leggy with floppy leaves.

Move the plants to another cool room in direct sunlight. Be sure to turn the pot often to keep the stems straight. Once they begin to flower, move the plants out of direct sunlight to a cool room to prolong blooming.

In colder areas, paperwhites will only bloom once and should be discarded after they flower. In the warmer regions of the South and tropics, they can be planted outdoors instead of, or after, indoor forcing.

"I always have some outside," said Mrs. Agostas who has had the same paperwhite plants growing outside for five to six years.

Bulbs can be planted outdoors in the fall for spring blooming or the paperwhites can be planted outside in the spring after a forced bloom in the winter. Once in the ground, they will need good drainage and a little basic fertilizer.

"I always put a little fertilizer on my bulbs," Mrs. Agostas said. "You can be sure they'll bloom. If you don't fertilize, you don't always know."

A protected area with southern sun exposure is the ideal location for outdoor paperwhites.

When purchasing bulbs beware of basal rot, which can make the bulb's basal plate - its root - mushy. To help avoid basal rot select bulbs that are free of blemishes and firm to the touch. Plant immediately or store in a cool place, such as a refrigerator crisper, until you are ready to plant them.

In addition to brightening up a room, paperwhites have a luxurious fragrance that's sure to keep your winter doldrums at bay.

Reach Valerie Rowell at 823-3351or email her at valmac007@hotmail.com.


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