Laidback Gardener Tip of the Day

Surprise! You CAN Get at Paper White Narcissus to Rebloom!

20150130If you’ve been gardening for a while, you’ve certainly heard that it is impossible to get a Paper White Narcissus (Narcissus papyraceus, formerly N. tazetta), the popular Christmas-blooming daffodil, to rebloom. But it ain’t necessarily so!

All the experts agree: you can’t recuperate a Paper White narcissus bulb that has been forced (grown indoors for early flowering). The only choice, we are told, is the trash or compost bin. That’s because blooming indoors is supposed to tire the bulb out, leaving it unable to bloom a second time. But that’s not my experience.

I’m very reluctant to give up on a plant that shows even the slightest sign of life. So, about 15 years ago, after a pot of Paper White narcissus finished blooming in January, I kept watering it and started fertilizing. To my surprise, it remained healthy and green. When summer came, the leaves were still green, so I continued, but moved it outdoors. The foliage did die back in late July.

I unpotted the bulbs to examine them. They were plump and healthy, had a solid feel and, in fact, looked much like the original bulbs. I stuffed them into a paper bag and kept checking on them. By late fall, there were pale yellow sprouts on each one, so I potted them up again and started watering. They bloomed again quite nicely in January (about a month later than the first time).

I repeated the experience the following year, except I simply left them in their pot during the dormancy period, watering again only when the pale sprouts appeared. There was less bloom this time (the bulbs had divided a lot and were smaller), but still, they bloomed.

I stopped the experiment after this third blooming. The bulbs had so divided there were only small bulbs left in the pot, none I judged big enough to bloom. So I tossed them into the compost pile.

After this first experience, I’ve tried twice more and both times had the same results: I can get at least 3 seasons of bloom from a Paper White narcissus under my conditions. I do try and grow them in full sun and fertilize regularly. Ideally, I’d like to grow them cool (below 50˚F/10˚C at night), as this gives shorter flower stalks that don’t flop, but I have no spot in my home that is both cool and sunny, so I simply stake them. I find the new cultivars, like ‘Ziva’ , ‘Galilee’ and ‘Jerusalem’ much sturdier and less needful of staking.

Note that I grew my Paper Whites in soil, not in gravel, marble chips, or in water alone (all of which are often used for growing Paper Whites). My experience with this kind of hydroponic culture is that bulbs and thick-rooted plants (carrots, beets, etc.) simply don’t plump up in an aquatic environment: they seem to need the repeated stress of going from moist to nearly dry and back again to form a good bulb. So you would have to grow them in potting mix if you wanted repeat bloom.

Also, if you live in a warm temperate climate (USDA zones 8 to 10), it would be far easier simply to plant them outdoors where they will bloom in January, February or March, depending on your local conditions. I just came back from Los Angeles where I saw Paper Whites in bloom in several gardens, that is, in late January.

So, the information that Paper White Narcissus won’t rebloom is untrue, sort of a horticultural white lie. Certainly it is far easier to simply toss them when they finish flowering and buy new bulbs, but, again if you’re like me and like to experiment, it really isn’t all that hard to get repeat bloom from a Paper White!

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

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