Forcing paperwhite narcissus bulbs

Want a simple, inexpensive gift idea? Give paperwhite narcissus bulbs. They're easy, low-cost, and always welcomed.

All you need are some bulbs, some gravel or marbles, and a shallow dish. Everything you need is at Woodland Gardens, or you could go pebble-picking along a streambed or rocky beach and you can use an interesting shallow bowl from your dish cupboard. You don't need a deep bowl; paperwhites need only a couple of inches for their roots.

Put about an inch of gravel in the dish. Nestle the bulbs in the gravel, pointed side up, close together but not touching. Fill in around the bulbs with more gravel so they stand firmly in place and just the top inch of each bulb shows. Fill the bowl with water just till the water barely touches the bottom of the bulbs, and set the bowl in a window with indirect sunlight. Within a couple of weeks, the bulbs will begin to sprout, and in 4-6 weeks they will be in full bloom. Rotate the bowl every couple of days so that the stems will grow straight. If the stems get tall and want to lean, tie raffia or ribbon around them, and use 2-3 long sticks or bamboo to anchor the stems into the pebbles.

Put the dish in a cool area. Within a few days, roots will appear. When green shoots appear, move the pot to a cool, very sunny spot. Lots of light keeps the stems from growing too tall and becoming floppy.

After flowering, the bulbs should be discarded; they cannot be forced again and are not winter hardy for outdoors.