Paperwhites, those delicate white flowers grown from bulbs, are members of the Narcissus genus, which also includes the spring favorites, daffodils and jonquil. But paperwhites are unique in that their bulbs don’t need a prolonged period of cooling in order to take root. That means they can easily be forced into bloom in the winter months, making them ideal for adding light during the dark winter days and a festive floral air to the holidays.
Steps for forcing paperwhites into flower:
1. It takes four to six weeks to go from bulb to a paperwhite ready to bloom. Plan ahead if you want paperwhites for the holidays. Plant a new batch every two weeks in order to have continuous flowers through the winter months.
2. Fill a vase or pots with clean stones, gravel, marbles, or the like, about two inches deep (five centimeters) for a small vessel. Fill four inches (ten centimeters) for a larger one. The pot should not have any drainage holes.
3. Place paperwhite bulbs in the stones, tightly packed and root end down (round side down, pointed end facing up), pushing lightly on the bulb to fix it in place.
4. Add water just to the level of the roots. Do not let the base of the bulb sit in water or it will rot. If you intend to try to keep the bulbs after they’re done blooming, you will want to water with a half-strength solution of liquid fertilizer instead of plain water.
5. Place the bulbs in a cool location, no higher than 60 degrees F (15.6 degrees C) and out of direct sunlight. Water about once a week, making sure the water level does rise to touch the base or fall more than an inch (2.5 centimeters) below it.
6. Gently jiggle the bulbs every few days to test whether the plants have rooted. Once you feel the resistance that says roots have grown, move the paperwhites into a sunny window, turning them every few days to the stalks grow straight. As they grow, check the water levels more frequently. You may need to stake them with bamboo and twine, as the stems grow long and can be weak.
7. Once they start to bloom, paperwhites should last about two weeks.
8. After flowering most of the bulb’s energy is depleted. You can dispose of the bulbs just as you would cut flowers, or you can cut off the flowers and pot the bulbs to hold them over until spring. Pot the bulbs in a well-draining mix of 2/3 potting soil and 1/3 perlite.
9. Place near a sunny window and water whenever the top 1-2 inches of soil is dry to the touch.
10. The foliage will naturally yellow and die. Cut off the dead foliage and store the potted bulbs in a cool place until they can be removed and transplanted into the ground in spring.
Water, rocks, and a pot–nothing more is needed to get your paperwhite bulbs growing and blooming through the winter months. If you time them right, paperwhites combine beautifully with cut holly and pine greens for holiday centerpieces and church displays. Or what about an attractive vase with a single forced paperwhite for an elegant Valentine’s day gift? However you use them, you can’t go wrong growing these lovely reminders of spring.
Would you like to learn more about flowering bulbs? Click here for additional information.