Thursday, February 8, 2018

Plant profile: Narcissus papyraceus (Paperwhite)

Paperwhites! A glorious, almost jasmine-scented flower that pops up in late winter to cheer you up when the weather is dismal. Should you grow them? Yes! How? Read on.

Latin name: Narcissus papyraceus ("nar-SISS-uss pap-eye-RAY-cee-us")
Common name: Paperwhite
Originally from: The Mediterranean - Greece to Portugal, plus Algeria and Morocco.
Blooms: White or yellow and white flower clusters open from late winter, spring
Light: Likes full sun
Water: Rain is enough
Height x width: 18"x12"
Zones: 8-10
Where to find in P. Garden: There's a clump up by the top of the steps.

Although beautiful, delicate and scented in an expensive way, paperwhites are easy to grow. You can find bulbs at most garden stores or online, then just add water and away they go: they'll burst into bloom 4-6 weeks after you plant or pot the bulbs, and if you plant them at 2- to 4-week intervals you'll get a nicely a staggered display.

You can plant them in the garden, or in a pot, or even in a vase with water. To do this, just put the bulbs upright on some gravel in a clear vase, and add water until the level reaches just below the base of the bulbs, but no higher (if the bases of the bulbs sit in water, they will rot). Makes a great holiday gift! Keep them in a sunny windowsill and enjoy the sight and scent.

After they're done flowering, if your paperwhites are in the ground I personally leave the flower heads intact on these - unlike most daffodils to which they are related these guys will seed around. And more paperwhites is a good thing!

If you'd rather the plants save energy for more flowers next year though, just deadhead them as the flowers shrivel up. Then leave the leaves along until they dry up completely. This lets the plant store energy for next year's display. Leave them in the ground, and forget about them until next year.

If your paperwhites are in a pot or vase, let the foliage die down and dry off the bulbs, then store in a cool dark place, in a paper bag, till next fall. Unlike other Narcissus species (daffodils etc), paperwhites do not need to be chilled to promote blooms.

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