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Force bulbs indoors for holiday decor

paperwhite bloom (Narcissus papyraceus)

Bring the garden inside this winter with fun activities and experiments! ‘Forcing’ paperwhite bulbs is a family-friendly activity to add a touch of nature to your home this winter. The technique nurtures a winter bloom indoors by providing bulbs with favorable growing conditions similar to spring.

Unlike other narcissus, paperwhite bulbs (Narcissus papyraceus) cannot successfully overwinter outside in Illinois. However, they are great bulbs to force inside, enjoying the blooms for a couple of weeks, then discarding the plant material as with other annual plants. Unlike other bulbs, they do not need a cold treatment before blooming. All they need is a little water and some waiting.

To grow paperwhites inside this winter, you need just a few supplies and little care.

  1. Purchase bulbs from your local garden center or an online company. Allow four to six weeks for the bulbs to bloom.
  2. Select a clear container, 3 to 4 inch deep, with no drainage holes. The container can be a decorative glass or as simple as a plastic cup.
  3. Fill the container ¾ full of small rocks or colorful marbles.
  4. Place the bulb on top of the filler with stringy roots pointing down.
  5. Fill the container with water until it just barely covers the bottom of the bulb.
  6. Place the container in a sunny, warm window.
  7. Observe the bulb every day. Replenish the water as it evaporates or as the roots absorb it. Roots and green tips will begin to appear in 1 to 2 weeks.
  8. When the bulb begins to flower (about 1 month), move the plant to the coolest area in your house to prolong the bloom. The star-shaped clusters of flowers produce a strong, musky fragrance and are a nice addition to your home décor.

For older children, set up a scientific experiment with multiple bulbs in various conditions around your home. Place the containers in shaded versus sunny locations or vary the water levels on the bulbs and see how well they grow. Track conditions that allow for the earliest or best blooms.

For younger children, this activity also provides the opportunity to learn about the individual parts of the plant and its function. The developing roots and their main function of absorbing water for the plant will be on perfect display for everyone to observe.

Adorn your holiday table with freshly blooming paperwhites and share your new gardening hack with those celebrating with you!