The newest and nicest variety of the Japanese winter softflower is the paperwhite narcissus. Better known by its Russian name, the Petit Preen paperwhite narcissus “Siberian Willow”, since it’s native to Siberia, is one of the highest color narcissus to pop up in bloom this fall.
Initially, I grew them on pots inside my house. It was a small display with many plants I came across last year to help me through the hard season (as we said in the Bible: the fruit does not ripen; it falls in the snow). All of these plants, some as old as I am, fell victim to the dreaded general invasion of whitefly that had taken over our garden.
The problem with paperwhites is they take over. If only they were yellow or red, but instead they are white. So I needed other ways to fight their white invasion!
With little effort, I was able to nix the devastatingly beautiful whitefly invasion by snipping off the whole ends of the plants that had open my heart.
I learned that you can water the plants outdoors with coconut water (but if they stay wet, it will keep them going!), then take them indoors for the day, fill the pot with clear potting mix, cover with a thick green towel, and re-feed the plants with green gummy powder during the cool day. It’s a great idea for petite plants, like daffodils, but as the winter progresses, you will see that paperwhites themselves get too big for that little pot. So if you have large plants, try them inside with a magazine, or even some loose tissues, and see if it works! The whole package is a killer!
Now I have a neat group of paperwhites that come in a variety of colored shades in all sizes. And ever since I first started them, I make sure to give them water from beginning to end, in spite of the fact that the only time they get warm is when they are watered in the early morning.
Finally, to help the paperwhites make sure that their roots do get activated in the winter months, I like to give them a little chip of Parmesan cheese just before I plan to give them away. All of the young plants put together, I like to wash off everything under cold water to keep them fresh, too.
A small pot at the end of a stainless steel dish, sprayed with the best water solvent I can find (Limonene by Exxon) will keep the pots from freezing. Additionally, as the night comes on, I open them up to check how they feel, since I am used to keeping plants outside but the temperature drops to about 60 degrees below zero in my house, so it’s like a glass of cool water when I open them up! They look even more amazing!
Since I first learned of this Chinese trick, I have multiplied my collection of paperwhites and haven’t had a single drop of snow in the near future.
Nigel Slater is a culinary historian and cookbook author. His latest book is “A Taste of Honey.”
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