Tasha was in the habit of forcing bulbs to grace her home throughout the winter months. Bulbs of choice were, tulips, hyacinths, amaryllis, and paper whites (tender fragrant narcissi). My son, Benjamin, who is an avid gardener, recently remarked that one of his favorite childhood memories was coming downstairs each morning to the enveloping fragrance of a large bowl of paper whites in bloom.
Every late summer I order a large quantity (50 to 100) so I have a good supply to last throughout the winter months and to share with family and friends. When it came to horticultural pursuits, Tasha always expressed herself with joyful abandon, and it is a habit I continue to embrace. Paperwhites typically produce blooms in three to five weeks after planting.
Paperwhites/Paperwhite Narcissus produce fragrant clusters of white flowers on stems about 12 to 15 or 16 inches tall. They are very easy to force and there are several ways to do it; in bowls, in pots, or in forcing jars. Any size bowl or pot will work. It really depends upon how spectacular you envision your display. If you decide to use a bowl, fill it about halfway up with stones or washed gravel, then place the bulbs on them and fill around the bulbs leaving their tips exposed to the air. Add water to the bowl until it reaches the bottom of the bulbs and maintain this level as the lovely green stalks emerge and throughout the blooming period.
If you decide to force paperweights in pots, you will need to use potting soil. Fill the pot about halfway, place the bulbs on the soil, then fill in around the bulbs with more soil leaving the tips exposed. The potting soil must be thoroughly watered and kept moist throughout the forcing and blooming period.
After you have planted your bulbs, place the containers in a cool, (about 50 - 55 Fahrenheit ) dark location for about one to two weeks. This will encourage root growth. When the shoots are about two and a half (more or less) inches high, place your container in a sunny window. You may want to stake the plants as they grow to keep them upright, though that is not always necessary. I do not mind if they flop a bit. If you move your paperwhites away from direct sunlight when they begin to flower, the blooming period will be prolonged.
Nobody really knows when people began using glass vases or hyacinth jars to force bulbs; but the general consensus of opinion was probably about 1700, maybe earlier. This method requires the least effort. All you need to do is fill the jar up with water and place the bulb into the top of the jar. There is a little collar around the opening of it which will keep your bulb in place. Placing your jar in a cool, dark place for a week or so will encourage root growth. You can find hyacinth jars on Amazon, (no surprise), eBay, antique shops, and nursery centers.
After blooming, the bulbs should be discarded. They cannot be used again.
Garden centers, some hardware stores, grocery stores, etc. offer packaged bulbs already in pots, but the quality will not be equal to bulbs purchased from reputable nursery centers. If you wish to order a quantity to enjoy for the winter months, Van Engelen Wholesale Flower Bulbs in Bantam, Connecticut offers them in lots of 50 for a reasonable price. They are top quality bulbs. You can find this nursery on the web and place your order online.
Plant at two to three week intervals for a continual display and store the unused bulbs at room temperature in a dark place. Although mice, Timmy Willies, chipmunks, etc. do not find narcissus appetizing, make sure your pets to not have access to the stored bulbs. Potted paperweights, ready to bloom in attractive containers, make a charming Christmas offering.