Photo: Ralph Anderson

A faithful reader, Cathy, wants to know what she should do with her paperwhite narcissus. She writes, "I grew paperwhites in water for Christmas and they were beautiful. They are still in the tall vase with their leaves turning yellow. What can I do with them until I plant them outside this spring?"

Grumpy's 110% Guaranteed Always Correct Answer: Paperwhite narcissus are almost exclusively grown as forced bulbs for the holidays. The reason is that they don't need any winter chilling to bloom. Just stick the bulbs' butts in water or moist soil and they'll blossom indoors in a couple of weeks.

However, paperwhites aren't very cold-hardy, making them a poor choice for most gardens. They won't take winters colder than those in Zone 8. Even where Grumpy lives in Zone 8A in central Alabama, they're marginal. They tend to bloom very early (January) and the inevitable winter freezes turn them to mush. They're much better in the mild-winters areas of the Coastal South and Florida in Zone 9. In fact, they're such reliable winter bloomers in Beaufort, South Carolina that people there call them "Beaufort snow."

So......if you live in Zone 9, you can plant the bulbs outside after they finish blooming indoors, making sure not to cut off the foliage until it turns yellow. Elsewhere, chuck 'em. Buy new paperwhites next December.

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