Last week I gave Hannah some paperwhite or narcissus bulbs to force. She carefully followed my instructions and filled the container half-way with pebbles, positioned the bulbs with the flat-end down, checked that they were close but not touching, and added pebbles to the top of the container. Then she watered them just to the base of the bulbs.
Dad observed Hannah throughout the planting. When she was finished he commented that he remembered his mother forcing bulbs in 1936 when they lived in Gordonville. He even recalled the green, transparent, shallow bowl that she used; it was shaped like a flower. “I was six-years-old,” Dad said, “and I have such a clear memory of Mother forcing those bulbs.”
In the past, the paperwhites that I have coaxed to bloom in-doors have tended to be on the leggy side and required staking. Today I read about an interesting way to keep the stems shorter without affecting the size of the flower. When the stems are about two-inches tall, the water must be drained out of the container and replaced with a solution of isopropyl alcohol and water. The ratio is one part alcohol to ten parts water. The bulbs should be watered with this solution as they continue to grow and bloom. William B. Miller, Professor of Horticulture and Director of the Flowerbulb Research Program at Cornell University, recommends this method to stunt the stems to 1/2 to 2/3 their average height. We are giving it a try since he sounds like he knows what he’s talking about.
Grandmother was always on the lookout for ways to enhance a plant’s beauty, and I know she would have appreciated this tip. Our narcissus bulbs are the foolproof ‘Ziva’ variety, and should be putting forth their fragrant blooms right before Christmas.