Forcing Paperwhite Bulbs for Holiday Blooms

Updated on April 23, 2019
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Linda enjoys tending her plants and flowers. She has written a variety of gardening articles for a number of nationally known publications.

Paperwhite Blooms
Paperwhite Blooms | Source

By the time Christmas rolls around, trees have dropped their leaves and the landscape is pretty bleak. It’s no wonder we’re more than ready to decorate our homes with holiday greenery. Evergreen garlands, wreaths and trees are a great start, but wouldn’t it be great to add blooming flowers to the holiday merriment?

You don’t have to spend a fortune on fresh-cut flowers. In fact, it’s cheaper and easier to grow your own. If you’ve never tried it, forcing springtime bulbs like paperwhites to bloom during the winter is a fun project for the whole family.

These delicate white flowers make unexpected gifts, a fragrant centerpiece for your holiday table or an understated display for the mantel. Make cultivating paperwhites a yearly tradition—they’re the perfect flower for the holidays.

Different Forcing Techniques

Paperwhites (Narcissus papyraceus) are virtually foolproof to grow using nothing more than water, soil or pebbles. Even a novice gardener or child can force these indoor plants to bloom during the winter months. Several varieties of paperwhites are available, ranging from snow white to soft yellow.

They live happily in a variety of vessels and growing media. Paperwhites grow well in soil, decorative gravel and/or water. You can purchase bulbs individually and use pots you already have on hand or find a kit that includes everything you need—bulbs, growing medium and containers. Once they're planted, they'll bloom within four to six weeks.

They bulb forcing vases make it very easy to for them to sprout and bloom.
They bulb forcing vases make it very easy to for them to sprout and bloom. | Source

How to Grow Paperwhites

  • Placing in Pebbles and Water: Layer pebbles, marbles or river rock in shallow containers or clear glass cylinders of varying sizes. Just add enough to cradle the bulbs to keep them upright and steady. Don’t cover them or allow the bulbs to touch each other. Maintain the water level so it just hits the base of the bulb and goes no higher.
  • Planting in Potting Soil: When planting in the soil make sure your container has holes to ensure proper drainage. You can recycle the same pots you use for summer plants. Place three bulbs in a 4-inch pot, four bulbs in a 6-inch pot and so on. Fill the pot with regular potting soil ensuring one-third of each bulb is above the soil line.
  • Using Special Vases: Forcing vases are designed to sprout and grow individual bulbs in water. A single bulb per vase can create a big impact when multiple vases are grouped together. These glass vases are perfect for small spaces like windowsills and narrow counters. The bulbs perch on the opening at the top of the vase. Fill the vase so the water level is touching the base of the bulb.

Move the containers into a cool, dark area for one week to establish root growth. Then place them in a warm, sunny location to encourage hardy stems. As they sprout, rotate them every day or so to keep the plants upright and straight. Once the paperwhites begin to bloom, move them into a cooler location away from direct sunlight. Keep them moist but not soggy.

These bulbs planted in soil are sprouting and will bloom within a few weeks.
These bulbs planted in soil are sprouting and will bloom within a few weeks. | Source

Displaying Paperwhites

Tying leggy paperwhites to slender stakes or simply cinching the plants with decorative raffia or ribbon will support the stems and keep them from drooping. If you wait until Thanksgiving, it will be a little too late to see your paperwhites bloom by Christmas day. However, you can expect an abundant floral display for the New Year. To create a staggered blooming cycle throughout the winter, plant groups of bulbs several weeks apart.

Use raffia or a satin ribbon to cinch them up so they don't droop over time.
Use raffia or a satin ribbon to cinch them up so they don't droop over time. | Source

Enjoy Them While You Can

While paperwhites are easy to cultivate indoors, they are considered annuals that typically bloom only one time. Even though they're commonly grown in North America, these flowers are really tropical perennials that love year-round warm and humid climates.

After they've been forced indoors, it is rare that they will survive outside. When the blooms are spent, the plants will not reflower. The foliage turns yellow and that tells you it's time to dump them in the compost bin. Sterilize the pebbles and containers and store them away for the next holiday season.

These lovely white flowers will eventually turn yellow and wilt once they've been spent.
These lovely white flowers will eventually turn yellow and wilt once they've been spent. | Source

© 2018 Linda Chechar

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