Coax the sweet spring-flowering bulbs into winter bloom in pebble and water filled glass bowls.
Fragrant, snowy white flowers atop grass like foliage make paper whites (Narcissus)favorite indoor plants in winter.
Forcing the bulbs to bloom for the holidays - ahead of their normal spring cycle - couldn't be easier. Just nestle a few bulbs among pebbles in a water filled bowl and set them in a cool place with bright daylight until buds start to swell (typically in 3 to 4 weeks). Then display them on an entry table, coffee table or dining table in clusters.
Unlike some bulbs, paper whites don't require chilling, so you can force them as soon as you get them They will bloom for up to two weeks.
In order to get a bloom by Christmas you should start by late November.
Step 1 - Pour about 1" of pebbles into the bottom of the bowl. Set the bulbs on the pebbles, leaving about 1/4" between them.
Step 2 - Add more pebbles around the bulbs to cover at least the lower two-thirds of each bulb. (Paper white roots are vigorous and can push bulbs out of their containers, so it's important to nestle bulbs firmly among the stone.) Tops of bulbs should sit just above the rim of the bowl.
Step 3 - Fill the bowl with water just up to the base of the bulbs, then put it in a cool place (40 to 50 degrees at night) with bright daylight. Check daily and keep water level at base of bulbs as roots and foliage grow.
To minimize floppy foliage (classic paper whites grow 14 to 18 inches tall) display the blooming bulbs in a cool place (60 degrees is ideal) with bright indoor light. Another way to help keep foliage from flopping is to add alcohol to the water, using a formula developed by Cornell University researchers: After roots develop and stems have grown about 2" tall, replace the water in the bowl with a mix of 1 part 80 proof liquor (gin or vodka) to 7 parts water. Continue using the mix for the rest of the the growing season.