For my mother, I decided to force some paperwhite bulbs since she is a well-documented plant killer, and only can grow bulbs.
So I gathered my pennies and went to the thrift store to see if I could find some suitable containers, bought a bag of rocks, and went to the local garden store for bulbs. $10 dollars later, and I was in business. I planted them, watered them, and waited. The beginning of this week I was getting really worried because I thought that they wouldn't be bloomed in time for gift giving , because they all looked a little shabby and short, like this guy, up above. (note: that guy is current, as are all the rest of the following photos. That pair is the party pooper bulbs.)
Literally in just a few days, my stumpy little bulb nubbins went from leafy fonds to these glorious blooming plants. Success!
Now the only thing I'm worried about is how long they will stay blooming, so I'm considering giving them to her early, since she'll appreciate the thought more than the terrible timing.
To force Paperwhite Bulbs:
(general instructions from all of my research)
1) Bulbs. I bought mine from a small local greenhouse, and you want to pick bulbs without blotchiness or otherwise sickly looking. I handpicked mine from a bin and picked the ones that had sprouted the most already. The nice thing about paperwhites is that they don't need a chilling period to simulate spring, so you can literally just add water and they'll grow, but you can really do any kind of bulb if you give them colder conditions beforehand.
2) Container. Mine were 50 cents each at a thrift store, and if I had been doing them for me, I would have plunked these guys down into kitschy mismatched teacups instead of neutral clear glass containers. They say about 3-4" inches deep, but mine were definitely not that deep, and you can see the cramped roots at the bottom. I had initially buried the bulbs deeper into the gravel, but as the roots started filling these containers, they kept shifting higher, so I imagine that's why you ought to use a slightly deeper container. The nice thing about using clear glass is that you can see the level the water is at.
3) Gravel. To give the roots something to hang onto. You can also just plain ol' dirt.
Pour your gravel into the bottom of the container. Add the bulbs pointy side up, and continue filling until the "shoulders" or the widest point of the bulb is covered, leaving the tip of the bulb showing. Fill water only to the bottom of the bulb to prevent the bulb from getting soggy and rotting.
Then you wait, and check the water level. Easiest project ever. They say to start them out someplace not as sunny and move them, but mine stayed put the whole time, under that window and seem to be doing fine. Use your best judgment, and hopefully they'll take off. To present them, I'll be putting them into a gusseted clear gift bag, and tying a brown satin ribbon and vintagey tag around the bottom of the stems.
*I had no idea, though, that paperwhites smelled funny. Apparently some people love them, but I'm apparently not one of them, and I sort of want them out of my kitchen. Otherwise, they're so cute and sunny and just cheerful to have around. I'm planning my next project to be some hyacinth (pink?) in a vintage green vase I've had around a couple years.