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Paperwhite Narcissus

(January 2012)

QuestionWinter Gardening Tasks


AnswerContinue to clean up in the garden.  Since our first killing frost was late, many people still have dead foliage out in the garden.    Some late leaves have continued to fall, so those too can be raked and added to the compost pile.  If you still have spring blooming bulbs that you haven’t planted, get them in the ground as soon as possible.  Remember they need to be exposed to at least 12 – 16 weeks of cool temperatures if they are going to perform at their peak. Winter weeds are the green in your lawn right now.  If you plan to spray with an herbicide, do so on a day that is above freezing.  Killing winter weeds is not difficult, but the smaller they are, the easier they are to kill. If you have pansies and violas in your landscape, fertilize them on a mild winter day.  Deadhead or remove the spent flowers to keep them producing more.   Continue to enjoy your poinsettia now that the holidays are over.  I like the added color indoors since all the other holiday decorations are gone.  Give them plenty of sunlight and even moisture and they will continue to give you color for months. If you can still find them, buy some paper white narcissus and amaryllis bulbs for added color indoors.  They are typically in bloom within six weeks of being planted.  Amaryllis bulbs can last for years, but paper whites are typically a one season wonder.  I toss them after they finish blooming. Seed catalogs are arriving.  Start planning your vegetable and flower garden.  Try something new this year.   We are in the middle of the transplanting season, so if you have plants that need to be moved in your garden, you can do so now through early March.  Remember to use caution if you are moving plants in freezing temperatures.  Don’t expose the root system to freezing temperatures for long.  Have the new hole dug before you dig up the old plant.  Mulch and water and they should start putting down roots.  No fertilizer is needed until new growth begins in the spring.


QuestionLast year I attempted to force paper whites and the results weren't at all like I had envisioned. The bulbs sprouted readily, but the growth was very "leggy". The flowers bloomed at different times and the stems started to fall over. I did loosely tie them, but it wasn't too attractive. I think they needed more light when sprouting. The temperature that I kept them at was my house temperature of approximately 68 degrees. I didn't pre chill them. Can you offer any suggestions as how I could have better results this year?


AnswerPaperwhite narcissus, Narcissus papyraceus, are quite showy during the holidays or into the new year, adding not only color but fragrance as well.  Many find the scent a bit cloying, but others enjoy it.  I think several factors may have led to the results you had last season.  First, when you originally plant the bulbs put  them in a container with enough depth to support the top weight of the plants.  This will prevent them from toppling over.  Fill the container with smooth pebbles or stones.  Wedge the bulbs into the rocks, keeping 1/3 to ½ of the bulbs above the rock line.  Then pour water into the rocks, just keeping the basal area of the bulb wet.  Put the bulbs in a cool locations—55-60 degrees until you see new growth beginning.  This will keep them from growing too fast and getting leggy.   If they are exposed to warm temperatures, they tend to grow taller and leggier.  Turn the container regularly to keep them from leaning toward the light.  You can actually provide support to them as they grow, taking either deciduous stems from outdoor plants or small stems of nandina with foliage to put around the pot.  This gives them a showy look and supports the stems all at once.  Once they begin to bloom, remove them from direct sunlight and try to keep them on the cool side, as this will extend the bloom period.  Once they are forced, I usually toss them.


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