Forcing Bulbs, Especially Paperwhite Narcissus

SoCal garden center specializing in forging paperwhite narcissus bulbs.

Written by Wendy M.

Paperwhite narcissus are beautiful flowers that can be forced to bloom at almost any time of year. The process is not difficult but it does take time and patience if you want to make sure the flower will bloom when you want it too. In most cases, with the proper care, it takes approximately six to eight weeks for the blooms to appear and be in full flower. You will need to gather together a vase, pebbles, colored glass rocks, and your paperwhite narcissus bulbs you want to force.

Choose Your Bulbs

Choose bulbs that look and feel healthy. They should be firm and have a uniform color. Bulbs that are soft and appear to be discolored in spots may be rotting and will not grow properly. It’s also important to make sure that bulbs are a good size. Small bulbs may not produce a bloom at all if they are underdeveloped. Once you’ve chosen your bulbs, you will want to make sure you store them in a cool, dry place until you are ready to put them in their vase. A tall, slender vase will keep the stems of the narcissus when they start to bloom.

Know When You Want Your Paperwhites to Bloom

If you want your plants to bloom during a certain period of time, you will need to start the process at least six to eight weeks earlier. Forcing bulbs to produce blooms requires you to simulate the changing of the seasons. The bulbs must go through a dormant period that will enable it to produce the nutrients it needs to support the bloom once the plant starts to flower. You will have to calculate for this time period so that when you can estimate the approximate time it will take for your bulbs to produce blooms.

A good rule of thumb when trying to figure out when to start the forcing process is to calculate six to seven weeks prior to when you want the bulbs to bloom. For example, if you want your bulbs to bloom around Christmas time, you will need to start the process around the first or second week of November. This will give the bulbs enough time for the roots to start to grow and then the stems to mature.

Prepare Your Vase

Before you put your blooms in your vase, you will need to make sure that it is properly prepared. Placing a couple of layers of pebbles in the bottom of the vase will keep it from tipping over once the plants begin to grow. Paperwhites are at the top of long, thin stems which will make the vase top-heavy if the bottom is not properly weighted. You can also place colored rocks or marbles in the vase for a touch of color. Place your bulbs on top of the pebbles and fill the vase with water.

Keep In a Cool, Dark Area Until Roots Form

Once you have your vase ready and your bulbs in place, put it on a shelf in the closet or other cool, very dark place. This will cause the bulbs to go dormant. During the dormant phase, the bulb will begin to prepare itself for the new growth phase. You will need to leave the vase in this environment until you notice small roots starting to develop. This may take several weeks. Check the vase often so that when the roots do appear, you can move it immediately to an area where it can get the light it needs to flourish.

Cool Temps, Proper LIghting

Once the roots appear, you can place the vase in a cool room with direct sunlight. Placing the vase across from a well-lit window is a good choice. Rotate your vase at least once a week to ensure the plants grow straight and tall. If you don’t, they will start to lean towards a window where the sunlight is most prominent. You may want to move the vase out of the direct sunlight if it starts to get too hot. Paperwhites need to remain in a cool environment and away from potential heat sources like stoves, furnace vents, or fireplaces.

When forcing your paperwhite narcissus flowers, always make sure to keep the water in your vase full. This will provide them with what they need while they are growing. Once the flowers are in full bloom, you can cut the stems from the bulbs and place them in a vase with other flowers or as a paperwhite bouquet. The flowers will remain fresh for several days after being separated from the bulbs. It may be important to note that once a paperwhite narcissus has been forced, it will deplete much of the nutrient stock within the bulb. If this happens, it may not be able to produce another bloom. This is especially true if the bulbs selected are smaller than normal.


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