Bulbs for Winter Cheer

Narcissus day 9
Narcissus day 9

Forcing Narcissus bulbs indoors during winter highlights the more fun part of gardening, the nurturing and anticipation. For very little work, you get a lot of beauty. Outdoors, there is some interest to be had in the winter garden. My conifers are green, while  some shrubs have colourful stems, and some plants retain dried flowers. However, I miss the joy of watching green plants emerge, and the anticipation of unfurling buds.

These Narcissus bulbs were a present. The 3 bulbs were plump, and in good shape. To help keep them upright as they grow, I packed them tight together in the square glass container. I used the soil mixture that came with them, instead of pebbles.

The top picture shows them on day 9 after planting. They grow quickly, giving pleasure long before the outdoor bulbs will finish their cooling period. It’s satisfying to watch them extend, with more green tips appearing and thickening every day. I observe them several times a day, about as frequently as I study the first outside bulb of spring. It’s fascinating to watch the roots spread to anchor the bulbs, visible through the clear glass dish.

Narcissus roots closeup
Narcissus roots closeup

They are labelled as paperwhites, with the variety name ‘Pistachio’, but  I can’t find a paperwhite with that name. However, there is a trumpet daffodil called ‘Pistachio’. I wonder if these bulbs will grow tall, and whether they will bloom in white, yellow or green? When they flower it will be easier to tell which type of Narcissus they are. The next picture shows them on day 13, with the first enlarged bud on the upper right.

Narcissus day 13
Narcissus day 13

Something’s green and growing and smells like spring.

Here is  a followup of what the Narcissus bulbs looked like when they bloomed.

Do you force bulbs indoors during the winter? Which have you had the best success with?

37 thoughts on “Bulbs for Winter Cheer”

  1. I had the best INTENTIONS of forcing bulbs, does that count? I still have one little sack of paperwhites in the fridge – I need to get busy. I can’t wait to see how yours bloom.

    1. Kim, there’s still time to force them, and have the fun of seeing them grow. It’s not as bad as having a sack of leftover bulbs for outside when there’s a foot of snow on the ground.

      Joy, the windows with good light do fill up quickly in the house. Wouldn’t an attached greenhouse be great?

  2. I was able to do it in Holland (it was very popular there) .. but we had a bigger house with a beautiful sun-room .. the scent of paperwhites and most of the forced bulbs make my guys sneeze something wicked .. so I had to give that up .. the “girls” would be trying their best to get at them no matter where I might find a place for them .. seeing a cat hang off a ceiling fan is not a good thing ! : )

  3. I’ve got some paperwhite too, which I was given as a Christmas present and which had already started to sprout in the gift box. When I first planted them up, they were growing at 90 degrees. They’ve straightened up now, thank goodness. I think they are my favourite bulbs for the house. I know some people can’t stand the smell, but I love it.

  4. You beat me to the photo posting: I have one almost like it but haven’t uploaded it from my camera yet. It, too, is labeled paperwhites…so I shall see what actually grows. It was also a gift, and those little sprouts are shooting right up…every day it seems they’ve grown an inch! Like Joy, I have a cat who eats plants…so, I’m not sure they are going to last around here:( I just wanted to give them a try anyway.

  5. Oh yes, I adore forced bulbs in winter…and primroses! I usually buy them already forced at the grocery store and try to pick up pots that haven’t bloomed yet. Daffodils, crocus, hyacinths….they’re all gorgeous. I have an amaryllis bulb I’m forcing but I think the location was too cold as it was growing unusually slowly. I’ve since moved it to a warmer spot and hope it hurries up!

  6. Jan, I will have to see what your bulbs look like. Isn’t the quick growth gratifying? It’s 8 hours after I posted this morning, and already the bud is breaking open and a few white petals are unfolding.

    Those naughty kitties that aren’t satisfied with cream need their own catnip plant.

    Victoria, two of mine were showing a tip of green in the box too. It’s good that your bulbs corrected their sloppy posture. It seems like too much fuss to stake indoor plants. I barely stake any of my outdoor ones.

    Amy, A glimpse of bulb flowers is especially cheering at this time of year. Watching the buds break open is the most fun. Perhaps your amaryllis blooms were aiming for Valentines day. Supposedly they won’t flop as much in colder temperatures, so perhaps yours will be extra sturdy when it blooms.

  7. I’m waiting for my amaryllis bulbs to begin growing. Will you enjoy their “aroma?” ;-) I don’t mind them, but they do have a strong scent that my husband can’t handle well.

  8. Hi Northern Shade. I like to force bulbs too, I really think they are what get me thru the long winter months. I forced Narcissus ‘Inbal’ for the first time this season. They are still blooming beautifully even if I’m not 100% intoxicated by their fragrance. I also have hyacinths in the frig and amaryllis bulbs ready to open all over my house. Hooray. I will have to check back to see what color your ‘pistachio’ bulbs are ~ could they be green???

    1. Kathleen, it sounds like you have an efficient production line for forcing bulbs. Are you delaying planting the hyacinths in order to have more bulbs flowering later, or do they need a longer cooling period? Your house will look so bright when all the amaryllis open.
      Narcissus are very attractive on display up close. The edges of a few whitish petals poked out later today, after I posted, but I’m not sure if the opened flower will have green tints or not. There are some other buds fattening up too.

  9. You chose a beautiful pot. I have several house cat that would pounce on anything green so forcing bulbs won’t work for me. Can’t wait to see yours in bloom.

    1. Marnie, greenery chewing cats seem to be a common theme. It’s unfortunate that you can’t grow them indoors, but watching the antics of your kitties would more than make up for that. My houseplants are non-flowering, except for the occasional spider plant bloom, so I’ve been especially enjoying them.

  10. I’d love to see those in bloom! Here our winter bulbs are Gladioli. I’ve never seen anything else available here. Maybe in the northern cities with a colder climate than ours, they would have your type of bulbs but not in Mumbai. I wish we did, though.

    1. Sunita, some people buy the different bulbs in the fall, and put them away in a cool spot, or the fridge if they don’t have a cold place available. Then they pot them up after convincing the bulbs that winter is over and spring has arrived. You can also buy them pre-chilled in some places, ready for forcing. The paperwhites, a type of Narcissus, are especially easy to force without a lot of fuss. When they bloom, it feels like an early spring. It’s a fun way to play at gardening when not much can be done outside.

  11. Hi Northern Shade. I thought I’d answer your question. No delaying (on purpose anyway) I wish I were so organized as to have the bloom times all thought out. I think they will be staggered by accident rather than planning. I put the hyacinths in the frig the end of Oct and I believe they need 12 weeks of chilling?? I have roots growing and a little spot of green now showing at the tips so I’ll pull them out in Feb (when the amaryllis and narcissus are over). I just may make it thru the winter in good shape this year with the help of all the bulbs!!

    1. How nice that it worked out for the bulbs to be timed so well. You will have something growing or blooming until the outside bulbs wake up. They are a nice respite from the more subdued view outside.

    1. Linda, isn’t it mesmerizing to watch the buds unfurl, with little petals arranging themselves in clusters?
      My first bloom is open now, and they are indeed paperwhites, but I’m not sure where the pistachio name comes from, since they are not green. Perhaps they ran out of names referencing the colour white.

  12. I’m not sure I want to force anything. I’m afraid it would cause an early onset of Cabin Fever. Even a small reminder of spring could push me over the edge. I’m already thinking of heading south just to play in some dirt.

    1. Wiseacre, The urge to play in the dirt is strong. I, too, wish I was heading south to a beach with my bucket and shovel to play in the sand – or were you thinking of playing by a sand trap?

  13. Exciting not knowing what it will be! :) I like growing bulbs indoors but I’m a bit allergic to Paperwhites and Hyacinths so I prefer other ones. Have a nice new year!

    1. The flowers are out now, and it is a regular paperwhite, but the flowers are very cheerful on a cold winter day. Whoever named it pistachio must have been wearing green tinted glasses. It is too bad you react to paperwhites and hyacinths. It’s a good thing there is such a variety of bulbs to chose from.

  14. I ‘m only cultivating exotic bulbs like Amaryllis and Bletilla and so on. I like it to await the time, when the spring flowers are in the garden. I ‘m late but I wish you a Happy New Year! Have a great time Wurzerl

    1. Wurzerl, you are fortunate, since you probably don’t have to wait long for the first outside bulbs of spring. My early spring bulbs usually bloom at the end of April or in May.

      Amaryllis are so pretty in the house, bringing an exotic splash of colour.

  15. I’ve never been good at growing bulbs indoors – I get tall lanky foliage and not many flowers. I know it’s my own incompetence so I’ve decided my bulbs are safer outdoors. Luckily our winters are short and relatively snow free so I don’t feel too deprived!

    1. Easygardener, some bulb foliage does get elongated, and prone to being floppy indoors. I’ve seen research where they put a small concentration of alcohol in the water for bulbs that were being forced, and it kept them shorter. However, I’ve never tried it, and my bulbs are completely sober. I’ve also heard that keeping it cool after they first start growing, helps keep them from getting too stretched.

      Barbara, Amaryllis seem to be a very popular bulb for forcing. The bright colours enliven the house in winter.
      Watching the quick growth of paperwhites is fun.

      Gail, I didn’t realize how many cats like to taste the foliage, until I started reading the comments on this post. It seems they’re not entirely carnivorous. Large, showy flowers do test a plant’s balance. Was the cat sitting across the room from the toppled plant looking innocent? :)

  16. Northern Shade,

    I never have, especially with this plant nibbling cat! But I brought home an amaryllis and it toppled over it was so top heavy! gail

  17. I love paperwhites but have not done them this year. It is not too late!
    Thank you for the reminder. I look forward to seeing how yours comes out. Your glass jar is the perfect thing.
    All the best,

    1. Philip, I like them in the glass vase too. You get the underground view, as well as the green side. I’ve enjoyed watching them, and if the ground outside wasn’t deeply frozen, I’d be planting some more bulbs outside too. I have a strong urge to plant some more little brown lumps, and see them transform into things of beauty.

  18. Well, I just stopped by to see what’s new…and I was reminded that I need to post those photos of my paperwhites. They are really starting to open up now. I love them–yes, it is truly gratifying to watch them pop up and bloom! I need to go out and get some more;)

    1. Jan, I love the little miniature daffodil blooms on the paperwhites. Each bud opens to a delightful mini-bouquet.There are about 6 more ready to open, not bad for 3 bulbs.

  19. Me too, I’m forcing Spring bulbs like miniature daffodils, narcissus and hyacinths in winter time. Another way of getting “blooms” in my rooms is pruning twigs of forsythias, cherry and apple trees etc. and put them into water and keep them in a warm and bright place. (it’s custom here to start this around 4th of December, on the Barbara Day. Perhaps you know this tradition).

    1. Barbara, you should have a parade of beautiful flowers as each of those blooms.
      I hadn’t heard of the tradition of starting the cut twigs on December 4th, Barbara Day. When I lived in a different zone, I used to bring forsythia twig in during late winter to bloom.

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