How To Grow Paperwhites

Beautiful paperwhites provide a preview of spring. image by Shadow Cat/Flickr.com/creative commons, square one studio/Flickr.com/creative commons, square one studio/Flickr.com/creative commons

Overview

Beautiful and fragrant, paperwhites and daffodils belong the narcissus family. Unlike daffodils, you can grow them in your living room in the middle of winter, with nothing more than a dish of pebbles and some water. This process, called "forcing," gives you a bouquet of live flowers that will last for several weeks.

Step 1

Choose the proper container. A low glass dish or bowl works well, but paperwhites can flop over if they get too tall, so if you have a straight-sided glass vase, consider using that. Glass is best so you can monitor the water level. A 6-inch-diameter container will hold five bulbs.

Step 2

Pour in a 2-inch layer of gravel, pebbles or decorative rocks. Place the paperwhite bulbs on the gravel or rocks with the rounded end of the bulb pointing down and the pointed end pointing up. Place them close together but not touching; leave about 1/4 inch between adjacent bulbs. Gently add more gravel or pebbles around the bulbs until just the tips are peeking out.

Step 3

Add water to where it is just barely touching the bottoms of the bulbs. The bulbs will rot if they stay wet.

Step 4

Place the bulbs in a cool, dark place for about three weeks while the bulbs sprout roots. The ideal spot will be about 50 to 60 degrees F, perhaps a basement or an attached garage.

Step 5

Place the bulbs in a bright, sunny windowsill until they bloom. Paperwhites prefer cooler temperatures, so don't place them right next to a radiator or heating vent. They also need a lot of light so they won't get too tall and floppy. Check the water regularly and add more as needed.

Step 6

Prevent paperwhites from getting too tall by adding alcohol to the water, according to a scientist at Cornell. A clear, unscented liquor like vodka is best, or you can use rubbing alcohol. Don't use wine or beer, which have sugars that can rot the bulbs. Dilute the alcohol to a concentration of less than 10 percent--5 percent is ideal--so you don't kill the bulbs. Either substitute the alcohol-enhanced water for plain water once the top growth is about two inches tall, or use it to "top up" the water from then on.

Step 7

Move the paperwhites to a spot where you can enjoy their beauty and fragrance once they've bloomed. They'll last several weeks if you keep the water at the right level and keep them out of direct sunlight.

Step 8

Discard the bulbs after they finish blooming. These tender bulbs can't survive freezing; don't plant them outdoors in areas with cold winters. Wherever you live, paperwhites that have been forced don't get enough nutrition after blooming to recharge the bulbs, so you can't force them again next year.

Things You'll Need

  • Paperwhite bulbs
  • Dish or vase
  • Gravel, pebbles or decorative rocks
  • Water
  • Alcohol (optional)

References

  • Overview
  • Source with alcohol dilution info
  • Cornell study
Keywords: paperwhites, paper whites, forcing bulbs, narcissus

About this Author

Judy Weightman is a freelance writer and editor from Philadelphia. She writes regularly on gardening, education, health care and sustainability. She's had a flower garden for 20 years and a home full of lush houseplants for even longer. A darned good Scrabble player, her word puzzles have appeared in Games magazine.

Photo by: Shadow Cat/Flickr.com/creative commons, square one studio/Flickr.com/creative commons, square one studio/Flickr.com/creative commons