Bulbs that can be forced to flower are a favorite holiday gift, and for those looking for something other than amaryllis, paperwhite narcissus is a great option. These daffodil relatives produce clusters of delicate flowers with a heavenly fragrance. And like amaryllis, they can be planted in the Florida landscape, even if it is difficult to get them to re-bloom.
Paperwhite narcissus is one of the easiest bulbs to force inside. Unlike most spring-flowering bulbs, paperwhite narcissus bulbs don't require chilling prior to flowering. This makes these lovely flowers perfect for gardeners with less experience forcing bulbs.
Native to the Mediterranean, "paperwhites" produce clusters of small white, yellow, or orange flowers (despite their common name). The extremely fragrant flowers are produced on stems that are 12 to 18 inches tall. With a sweet scent that can fill a room, it should be noted that yellow flowers are particularly fragrant.
For other heavily fragrant paperwhites, check out 'Erlicheer' and 'Omri,' which produce completely white flowers. 'Galilee' is white and cream, while the flowers of 'Avalanche' have white petals and yellow central cups. 'Constantinople' also has a yellow cup, but produces semi-double white petals, meaning that the flower stamens transform into yet more petals, causing a fuller appearance.
Planting and Care
When purchasing bulbs, look for ones that are blemish free and firm; this can help you avoid problems related to basal rot. Basal rot causes decay starting at the roots and spreads upwards inside the bulb. On the surface, affected plants become dwarfed and the flowers are abnormal.
When planting your bulbs look for a pot that is 3 to 5 inches deep and has holes in the bottom for drainage. Paperwhite narcissus plants need a potting mix that is well drained. Bulbs should be planted with the pointed ends up. When planting, plant enough bulbs in the pot to fill the space without the bulbs touching each other. Make sure the tips of your planted bulbs are exposed.
Alternatively, bulbs can be planted in gravel, pebbles, or marble chips instead of soil. When doing this, fill a pot or bowl up halfway with pebble and place the bulbs on top of the pebbles. Then add more pebbles until the bulbs are about two-thirds covered. Finally add enough water so that the bottoms of the bulbs are touched by the water, then maintain this water level. Full flowering takes about 4 to 8 weeks after planting.
Once planted, place them in a sunny, cool location; when grown in an area that is too warm or has too little light, the leaves and flower stalks will grow too tall and flop over. Too much sun will cause the flowers to deteriorate.
For more information on paperwhite narcissus, contact your county Extension office.