A Joles Family Holiday Tradition: Forcing Paperwhites

December 22, 2020

WHAT YOU’LL NEED

  • Wide mouth glass vase: I use 6″ x 6″ cylinders as I like to put multiple bulbs into a single container. I enjoy using glass as I find it fascinating to watch the roots grow, but as long as it holds water, you can pretty much use anything.
  • Any of the following, according to your preference: pea gravel, sea glass, glass gemstones, marbles, or even something that you already have on hand. You can find these items in The Dollar Store, 99 Cents Only Store, craft stores or garden centers.
  • Paperwhite bulbs: I used 7 bulbs in each cylinder vase, for a total of 14 bulbs. I purchased them prepackaged for the first time this year, but I don’t think I’ll do this again as the bulbs were all different sizes and one of them was dried out. Usually, I purchase them from a bulk bin so I can pick bulbs of similar size, check for firmness and confirm that they haven’t been damaged. I’ve purchased them in the past at Walter Anderson’s, Grounded: Modern Furniture and Gifts, Mission Hills Nursery and Armstrong Nurseries. They’re approximately $1.50-$1.75 per bulb.
  • Water
  • Vodka or gin: No, we’re not having cocktails! I got my bottle of vodka on sale at Von’s and will be able to use this bottle for years as we don’t drink vodka. You can’t use beer or wine as the plants don’t like sugar – they only like the hard stuff.
  • Scissors or paring knife
  • Festive ribbon: This one is optional, but I think ribbon always looks pretty wrapped around the vase! I decided to keep it simple this year, so no ribbon.

PROCESS

Clean your glass vessel. Mine always get a little dusty sitting on the shelf. Once your vessel is clean, place clean pea gravel inside of it. There’s really no wrong way to do this. I fill my containers to just slightly over halfway to give the bulbs plenty of room to spread their roots, but I’ve also seen people put just a few rocks in the bottom. 

Next, carefully scrape the old roots off the bottom of the bulbs with the edge of a knife or scissors. I did this over the garbage disposal so that I could just shred the stuff later. Scraping the bottom is a new trick I learned this year from one of the staff at Grounded in Encinitas. I tested it on one of the bulbs and it had roots starting the very next day! I was shocked. It would have taken up to a week the way I used to do it. In the past, I’ve even had bulbs that haven’t sprouted at all.

Before scraping the roots

After scraping the roots

Now, fill the container with water until it just covers the pebbles and place the root side (rounded side) down on top of the rocks. I stuff them tightly into the vase and make sure all of the bottoms touch the water. The spout protruding from the top of the bulb will eventually straighten as it starts to grow.

In approximately one week, carefully dump the water from the container and begin watering the bulbs with a mixture of one-part vodka or gin to seven-parts water. Again, just water to where it covers the pebbles. (I would NOT feed the vodka mixture to your other houseplants.) The vodka is to stop the paperwhites from becoming lanky. Instead of a height of 30 inches where they’ll flop over, the vodka will help them stop at a height of around 16 inches. I learned this awesome tip from the Grumpy Gardner (Steve Bender) of Southern Living Magazine. Side note: Steve Bender is hilarious when it comes to all things gardening! I love reading his articles. Google him if you are looking for a giggle (and who doesn’t need a good giggle these days?)

In four to six weeks, you’ll have an amazing show of the most intoxicating scented blossoms! I’ve been told the bulbs won’t rebloom once they’ve been forced. I’ve never questioned this wisdom; thus, I have never tried planting them after they’ve been forced. My garden just isn’t large enough to experiment so instead they go into the green bin after they’re done blooming. Then I wash the rocks and place them in a sealed container so I don’t have to wash them again next year!

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