In September, I wrote about how to force regular daffodils to bloom indoors. You may recall that they needed a period of chilling in order to bloom.
If time got away from you, and you didn't get that done, here is a second chance to have bulbs blooming indoors. Paperwhites are a kind of narcissus that don't need a chilling period.
Another advantage is that the fragrant blooms appear about a month after planting, making them a good floral holiday gift. Also, since they grow quickly, they make an excellent project for children to grow. Or, just enjoy them yourself!
You'll need a low, wide bowl or other container, some small washed pebbles or pea gravel, and if you have some marbles or decorative stone pieces, that's a plus, but not a necessity.
Fill the container half to ¾ full with the pebbles. Gently push the paperwhite bulbs into the gravel, close enough to be nearly touching. Planting them close together helps to keep them from falling over when they bloom. Now add more pebbles, covering the bulbs up to their shoulders. Marbles or small, decorative rock can be used as the top layer, if you wish.
Next, add just enough water to cover the base of the bulbs. Do not cover the entire bulb with water, or it will rot. Put your container in a cool place until you see roots developing; this will take just a few days.
Then move it to a sunny window, to encourage top growth. Check daily to see if the bulbs need water. Do not fertilize. When the plants begin to bloom, move the container out of the sun, and the blooms will last longer.
I like to buy paperwhite bulbs in bulk, as it is much more economical than buying a "kit", which usually includes a container, 4 bulbs, and soil instead of pebbles. Local garden stores such as the Grange, Ray's in Ashland, as well as others have the bulbs in stock now. Another advantage of buying in bulk is that you can start a new pot of bulbs every two or three weeks, so that you have some blooming all winter.
Unfortunately, paperwhites are not hardy in the Rogue Valley, so they cannot be planted outdoors. Enjoy them while they bloom, then compost them, and get new bulbs next year. They are so cheerful on gray days!
Since we're talking about holiday plants, poinsettias come to mind. When you bring one home, or receive it as a gift, be sure to put it in a bright window. That will help it keep its color. The second tip about keeping your poinsettia happy is to keep it evenly moist, but never wet. Overwatering kills more poinsettias (and other houseplants) than anything else.
Poinsettias can be put outdoors in May, if you want to keep it a while longer. When it loses its leaves, repot and prune it to reshape it, and fertilize when new growth appears.
Bring it back indoors in late September or October, put it in a dark closet for 8 — 10 weeks, then in a sunny window to get the leaves to color up again.
Coming up: Bob Reynolds, coordinator of the Oregon State University Jackson County Master Gardener program, tells me that there are still a few places left in the 2013 training class to become a Master Gardener. The class meets all day every Wednesday from Jan. 16-April 10. Call Bob at 541-776-7371 for further information.
Carol Oneal is a past president of the OSU Jackson County Master Gardeners Association. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.