Even if you've never planted anything, even if you've...

November 23, 1997|By Nancy Brachey | Nancy Brachey,KNIGHT-RIDDER NEWS SERVICE

Even if you've never planted anything, even if you've mangled marigolds or killed cactus -- you can succeed with paperwhite narcissus bulbs. Nothing will offer a quicker lesson in the pleasure of gardening.

Even seasoned gardeners enjoy growing paperwhites for decorations and Christmas presents. Unlike bulbs such as tulips and daffodils, paperwhites grow fast and don't require a long stretch of cool storage. Once planted, the paperwhite bulbs begin to sprout roots, then send up leaves and flower buds, all in 30 days or so.

Shallow bowls, plain and inexpensive, serve as homes for paperwhites grown in gravel and without soil. Place 1 to 2 inches of clean gravel or small stones in the bottom of the container; then set the bulbs on top, adding more gravel or stone to anchor them.

To encourage root growth, add water to reach the base of the bulb where roots emerge; keep it at this level while the leaves grow and the flowers bloom. Too much water could encourage the bulb to rot.

Plastic flower pots also make good containers for paperwhites, but they will leak water, so put a saucer under the pot.

Instead of stones or gravel, use lightweight, packaged potting -- soil that will drain well. Plant the bulbs so that the top of the bulb is even with the rim of the pot. Water the pot well, and keep it moist to encourage root and leaf growth.

While paperwhites do not require the cold temperatures of their daffodil cousins, they do much better when grown in temperatures a bit cooler than the normal home. Warm temperatures bring the leaves up very fast; they get too tall and require staking with slender pieces of wood and string.

If the plant is placed outdoors during cool days and nights, the leaves will rise more gently and in proportion to the flower stalks. Should hard freeze (28 degrees and down) threaten, simply put the pots in a garage or your crawl space overnight.

To encourage the flower buds to begin opening, place the pot in a very sunny window, but take it out of direct sun once the flowers open.

Placing the plant in the coolest part of your home or office will help the blooms last longer.

Once the flowers fade, you can pitch the bulbs or plant them outdoors in a warm spot near the house. They usually rebloom in the spring within a few years.

Pub Date: 11/23/97

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