Winter Gardening Inspiration!
Are you looking for some winter inspiration? Look no further than indoor gardening. It’s a new year, so let’s celebrate by growing something fresh! Besides, the Christmas decorations are coming down, so you will want to freshen up your home with something inspiring to take you through the winter months.
Big Surprises in Small Packages
Our first inspiration fix comes in the form of a little white flowering bulb – a paperwhite, or Narcissus Papyraceus in Latin.
Like little Christmas presents, these Paperwhite bulbs hold within them the most beautiful surprise! Both a delicate mass of brilliant white flowers and an earthy fragrance during the winter months when we need it the most.
Don’t Pack Your Bags Just Yet
Being a history junkie, I just had to know where these little white gems came from. While they are native to the western Mediterranean region, paperwhites can also be naturalized in Texas, Louisiana, California, Corsica (an island off the French southeastern mainland), and Azores (one of nine volcanic islands west of mainland Portugal). Fortunately, we don’t have to move to these regions of the world to enjoy paperwhites.
There’s Just One Problem
What makes them easier to force than other Narcissus is that they don’t require chilling before planting. There is just one tiny challenge with Paperwhites – they’re top heavy. I have tried to grow these before without success. They just flopped over like a drama queen without support.
The horticulture department at Cornell University, did a study to see if they could keep Paperwhites from toppling over once they bloom. They uncovered a little trick that keeps the stems a little closer together and stunts their growth – alcohol. Diluted, of course.
Grab Your Lab Coat
I decided to test this theory just for fun, so I planted two sets of bulbs. One set was watered with straight water and for the other set I used a diluted solution of alcohol and water. I will explain the theory and ratio of alcohol to water below.
You can order Paperwhite bulbs from Breck bulbs here or wait until fall when garden nurseries and stores sell kits. My bulbs had already sprouted in the box. Not ideal, but not a big issue either. My kits contained a pot, a package of coir soil alternative, and four bulbs (discard them if they are moldy or rotten).
Quick tip: If you want a continuous display of white blooms to freshen up your home throughout the winter, plant a new pot of bulbs every two weeks and switch them up with new ones as the blooms fade. The faded ones can be composted.
Ready. Set. Grow.
Unwrap the coir and place it in the pot.
Measure 3 ½ cups of water into a 4 cup measure.
Pour all of the water over the coir and allow to sit for 25 minutes to absorb all of the water.
Using a small hand shovel, move the coir to the side to dig a hole the depth of the bulb.
Place each bulb close to the others because they look better as a tight mass.
Also, you need to bury them ¾ of the way up the bulb skin (brown part). The tops will be above soil level.
They will look like this. Without the sprouts.
As I mentioned, mine were sprouting in the box, so yours will not have the green shoots yet.
Once they show green shoots you need to water them a little every day.
Children can take turns with the honour of watering these little surprise packages each day. 🙂
The Alcohol-Water Solution
If you would like to try the alcohol solution for watering to help the stems stay stronger – When the green shoots are 1 to 2 inches high, mix 80-100 ml 70% rubbing alcohol with 1 litre of water. (I used 80 ml alcohol because I have been known to kill plants before.) Stir this mixture.
LABEL IT CLEARLY AND KEEP OUT OF CHILDREN’S REACH SO NO ONE DRINKS IT.
You can dip your smallest measuring cup into this mixture to water your bulbs a little when the coir feels dry to the touch.
And now the waiting part…
The left pot was started earlier, was watered with straight water and the stems are looking more “leggy”. The right pot was watered with water and alcohol. Looks like the experiment is working – the alcohol stunts the growth, but doesn’t affect the blooms and results in a shorter, stronger stem. They are both at the same stage of bloom development even though they were planted a week apart!
Oops! It’s starting to lean…
After a few more days, I tried tying the stems together to keep them upright…
It worked for a two days – and then…
The experiment worked! I will definitely use this alcohol-water solution every time!
The Pebble Method Works Really Well, Too
Forcing bulbs is a great indoor winter activity for kids! Replacing the soil with pebbles means a quick and easy cleanup, too. Within 2-3 weeks they will have the gratification of watching these tiny little flowers pop open with a fresh fragrance.
The pebbles can be purchased by the bag in a craft or pet store in the aquarium department. The cool part about using the pebbles is that you can watch the roots grow. The amount of water you use is important with the pebble method – only fill the container with water up to the base of the bulb and maintain that level each day. The pebbles are also great for holding the bulbs firmly in place, thus keeping the stems straighter.
Another Trick to Keep Them Straight
Another trick I learned about the pebble method. By using a tall, narrow, straight-sided glass jar the stems are held together, so you won’t need to tie them. If you would like to follow the method of planting Paperwhites using the pebble method, check out this site.
I hope you have fun trying this trick yourself. Enjoy decorating away the winter blues with your sturdy paperwhites!
I would love to hear from you!
Have you tried using alcohol before?
Have you tried the pebble method?
Will you time multiple plantings for
successive blooms as part of your winter decor?
FREE CRC Week at a Glance Planner
Subscribe to get my latest content by email.