Friday, January 22, 2010

Frugal Flowers during Winter Months

One of my favorite projects to do with my kids each winter is to force paperwhite narcissus bulbs in small containers. My daughter and I put these together today so that they will bloom for the brunch we are hosting in a few weeks. They are striking when planted individually or in groups, and have a fragrant scent when the flowers bloom. These also make fantastic affordable gifts for relatives, hostesses, or teachers.

Gather your materials and prepare to plant the bulbs about 3 weeks before you want them to bloom. You will need:

  • A Small Assistant (optional)
  • Small votive candle holders: here is an example of the size I use to plant one bulb per container--one bulb is all you need! I prefer a round rim shape to hold the rocks inside. I am in love with some votive holders sold at Michael's that have crackled glass and are painted gold around the rim, I believe those are approximately $3 apiece, or the plain glass ones such as the example are around $1 each. You can also put up to 4 bulbs in a slightly larger glass container; the 3 larger containers you can see in the photos were also $1 apiece.
  • Paperwhite narcissus bulbs: I can usually find these at local garden centers for about $1 apiece in November. You can also purchase them in larger quantities online for less per bulb. Home Depot sells kits for $4.99 that come with 4 bulbs ($1.25 apiece, but you don't need the container etc. that they include with the bulbs) they may still have them in stock and discounted now. They are 'in season' at stores in November. I bought mine in November online and saved some in the garage so they stayed cold and fresh. You can also find them online at this time of year, but you will have to hunt around for a good price and watch out for shipping costs.
  • Small glass rocks or aquarium gravel: I like the flat round decorating rocks sold at Michael's and similar craft stores, but I have also used beige aquarium gravel in the past. I reuse the rocks/gravel each year (unless I give the votive away as a gift!)
  • Small watering can: if a young person is helping you!
  • Sunny spot by a window

1. Place a small amount of rocks or gravel inside the votive holder. Place a narcissus bulb in the center with the stem facing up and surround the bulb with additional rocks to hold the bulb upright. If you're using a larger container, position multiple bulbs with stems facing upward, placing rocks between and around bulbs.

2. Add water to almost fill the votive. It should cover about 3/4 of the bulb or so.

3. Place votives in a sunny place. Check water levels every few days and add water as needed.

4.Withing a week or so, the bulb stems should turn green and start to grow. The flowers bloom in about 3 weeks. STOP WATERING just as soon as the flowers bloom; this will keep your paperwhites standing upright. If you continue to water, the stems will be too heavy and the paperwhites will fall over.

I find that my paperwhites will smell nice for about a week after they bloom, then the flowers will dry but the stems will stay green (without watering) for about 3 weeks after the flowers dry out. The paperwhites in the first picture are over 6 weeks old and bloomed over Christmas. My daughter and I took the old bulbs out, composted them, and put the new bulbs in.

Using a $1 votive and finding the bulbs for $1 can make this an incredibly affordable gift--you can use any small container you have on hand if it will hold water to reduce the cost even more. The only additional cost would be for the rocks or gravel placed around the bulb. Today I reused votives and rocks that I've owned for years, so the only cost for this project were the paperwhites, which I paid $.63/bulb (23 bulbs = $14.49). This made a total of three 4-bulb containers and eleven single-bulb containers: 14 potential gifts! I'm keeping most of this batch, though.

After the paperwhites are growing steadily, I'll place them around the house: single votives in the bathrooms and clusters of 2-3 votives on tables around the main living areas. I won't feel the need to buy cut flowers for the brunch, and we'll enjoy the paperwhites until March!

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