Paperwhites are an easy way to brighten up your home this winter. 

They are a simple indoor gardening project and the also make excellent holiday gifts

Here’s how…

Adding sprays of cheerful flowers and spicy floral fragrance to your home in winter is as easy as planting a few paperwhite bulbs in a pot. Growing bulbs indoors is called forcing because you get them to bloom out of their natural season by keeping them in cold temperatures until you’re ready to grow. But paperwhites are so easy that no “force” is involved; they don’t need (or want) to be pre-chilled. Instead, choose a container, lay the bulbs on top of pretty stones, or plant them in soil, add water, and you’ll have elegant blooms in 4-6 weeks. Here’s how to grow paperwhites indoors.

What Are Paperwhites?

Narcissus Papyraceus

The closely related paperwhite bulbs would look familiar if you planted some yellow daffodil bulbs this fall. This is because the daffodils you grow are a type of narcissus, and so are paperwhites. This group of narcissus has tall stems and small, star-shaped flowers that are often intensely fragrant.

Paperwhites are native to very warm climates in southern France and southern Spain, so they don’t need any chill time at all before they grow indoors. The bulbs grow so fast that you’ll be able to see their daily progress (kids really enjoy watching these plants develop). And once the flowers open, they’ll last about two weeks.

How to Plant Paperwhite Bulbs

The goal is a good show of flowers, so pack the paperwhite bulbs snugly into your selected pot. Each bulb will give you 20-60 small flowers. Paperwhites don’t need any soil to grow, just a little water.

You can grow these bulbs in decorative shallow dishes or trays at least 4 inches deep. Fill the containers with 2-3 inches of stones, pebbles, or glass beads.  Nestle in the bulbs, pointy sides up, and add water just to touch the bottom of the dried roots but not the bulb itself. The roots will reach down into the water. If the bulbs sit in water, they’ll rot. Check the water level each day and top it up so the roots can always reach moisture.

How to Plant Bulbs in Pots to Add Splashes of Color Anywhere

Watering paperwhites is easier to manage when you plant them in potting soil in a container with a drainage hole. Start with a few inches of soil, then tuck in the bulbs and add soil up to the top third of the bulbs. Water to keep the soil moist but not soggy. Stash your planted bulbs in a cool spot (55-65˚F) for a couple of weeks. They don’t need light at this point, but once you see some green growth, move them into a warmer, well-lit location.

How to Care for Paperwhites

Paperwhites that have started to grow need bright light, but the flowers will last longer if the plants stay around 65˚F. An ideal location could be a cool windowsill with indirect sunlight or a tabletop near a sunny window. Avoid a southern window with the sun streaming in all afternoon. Remember to check the water daily if you’ve planted them on stones and every other day if they’re planted in soil.

Have You Ever Heard That You Should Give Paperwhites Alcohol?

Paperwhites are notorious for flopping over once they reach their full height of about 16-18 inches tall. That’s why you’ll often see them supported with slim stakes, twine or a metal ring around the foliage. You can also support the stems by growing them on stones at the bottom of a tall glass vase or a large canning jar.

Another way to keep your paperwhites upright is by giving them a shot of hard liquor. Research confirms that paperwhites growing on pebbles have shorter, sturdier stems when watered with 80-proof liquor (which is 40% alcohol) mixed in. As a result, stems will be at least one-third shorter but the flowers will stay the same size.

Here’s how to do it: mix up one part any hard liquor (vodka is cheapest) with 7 parts water for a 5% alcohol solution. Start the bulbs with plain water and after they begin to sprout leaves and stems, replace the water with the alcohol mixture. Theoretically, the alcohol reduces the amount of water the plants receive, stunting their growth.

How Long Do Paperwhites Last?

Paperwhites will bloom for about two weeks. After that, snip off the faded flowers and either enjoy the green leaves as a houseplant for a few more weeks or drop the bulbs and leaves in the compost pile. These are not bulbs to keep around and try to get them to rebloom; it can take several years of pampering for that to happen.

Best Paperwhite Varieties to Grow

There are a few different varieties that offer varying scents, colors, and sizes.  We have Ziva’s, Inbal (mildly scented with showy white flowers), and Winterson’s.  It’s really a matter of personal preference when it comes to these sweet mood boosters.

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