Paperwhite narcissus are the best no-fail Christmas flowers of all. Just place the bottoms of the bulbs in water, keep the bulbs at room temperature, and in just a week or two, you have beautiful, fragrant blooms! This is so easy even my wife, Judy, loves doing it. (Please don’t tell her I said that.)
Paperwhites are unusual in that most are bred in Israel and need no chilling in order to bloom. Unlike other narcissus, however, they’re not very cold-hardy. You can plant them in the ground in the Lower and Coastal South (Zones 8-9) and they’ll bloom around December and January. In fact, they’re so popular in Beaufort, South Carolina (one of the prettiest old coastal towns you’ll ever see) that folks there refer to the alabaster blooms as “Beaufort snow.” Farther north, paperwhites won’t take the winters, so after they bloom just throw them out and buy new ones the next year.
Great Christmas Gift
If you’re looking to really impress someone special with your creativity and taste, but like me don’t want to do any of the actual work, do I have the perfect gift for you! See those paperwhites above blooming in the wooden box with classy French lettering and rope handles? They’re a kit from Longfield Gardens that comes with bulbs, soil, waterproof liner, and decorative Spanish moss to top off the box after planting. Price: $39.95 plus $8.50 shipping. Buy two (you can also order amaryllis) and shipping is free.
What you do with the box after the bulbs finish blooming is up to you. It’s a great looking planter. I’m saving mine to make the perfect coffin for our old cat, Ketchup, should one day the unthinkable happen. (Please don’t tell Ketchup I said that.)
Don’t Let Your Bulbs Crash Down
One problem Judy always has with paperwhites she plants herself is the flower stems grow so tall (3 feet or more) that by the time they bloom the stems either collapse from their own weight or they pull the whole container over and smash it to smithereens on our kitchen floor. This is particularly inconvenient if your home security system has a motion detector, because this almost always happens at night.
However, using my customary and expected brilliance, I have uncovered a way to keep paperwhites from growing too tall. And the best part is, it involves liquor.
All you need to do is add gin to the water. This reduces the bulbs’s height by about a third. You place the bulbs in ordinary water until they develop roots, then replace it with a mixture of 1 part gin to 7 parts water. Freshen the drink as necessary and use the cheap stuff — remember, you aren’t dealing with James Bond. Cheers!