Growing Paperwhites: Winter Flowers Indoors

Wouldn't some bright, fragrant blossoms perk up your house this winter? The paperwhite narcissus, a relative of daffodils and jonquils, is easy to grow indoors and produces small, fragrant flowers on 30-45 cm (12-18") stalks. Most paperwhites display pure white blooms, but yellow and orange varieties are also available.

How to Plant Paperwhites Indoors

The most common way to grow paperwhites is to grow them to bloom in pots indoors. They are especially popular for decorating at Christmastime. Fill a 7-10 cm (3-4") deep bowl or other shallow container without drainage holes with crushed rock, pebbles, or other decorative stones. Pack your paperwhite bulbs into the container and push them down into the stones so the tips stay upright. Add water until it just covers the bottom of the bulbs.

How to Force Paperwhites to Bloom

After planting, keep the bulbs in a cool, 18 °C (65 °F) dark room for several weeks until the roots take hold and shoots start to sprout from the bulbs. Then place the containers in a cool, sunny location. In 4-6 weeks, you'll see tiny blossoms on the flower stems. Paperwhites have a significant advantage over other commonly forced bulbs in that they do not need an 8 to 12 week cold temperature treatment. Because it's so fast and easy, forcing paperwhites is an excellent project for beginning gardeners.

Plant Outdoors in Warm Climates

Unlike their daffodil relatives, paperwhites won't tolerate freezing temperatures, but they can be planted outdoors where winters are mild. Plant them in the fall as you would other spring-flowering bulbs. They look especially attractive in groups planted in containers or the garden.

A Tip for Growing Paperwhites Indoors

To prevent your paperwhites from getting tall and floppy, give them a good stiff drink. Paperwhite bulbs grown in water with a 5% concentration of alcohol bloom beautifully on stems 1/3 shorter than paperwhites grown in unspiked water. Most clear liquors are about 40% alcohol (80 proof), so that works out to 1 part liquor to 7 parts water.