Roll up your sleeves and dig in – it’s time to force paperwhites for the upcoming holidays! paperwhites (Narcissus tazetta) are the easiest bulbs to force indoors. No tricks, no gimmicks – just pure fun, especially for kids (big kids, too). And did I mention their unmistakable fragrance?

paperwhite Bulbs

Paperwhite bulbs are the easiest bulbs to force indoors.

Photo Credit: Donna Moramarco

Just Potted paperwhite bulb

This paperwhite bulb was just potted. (Note the bulb is sitting on top of the pebbles.)

Photo Credit: Donna Moramarco

Closeup Potted White Paper bulb

Paperwhites have an intoxicating fragrance.

Photo Credit: Donna Moramarco

paperwhite bulbs in container

Potted paperwhites make a beautiful centerpiece.

Photo Credit: Donna Moramarco

They say more is always better, so buy more bulbs than you need. (Loose paperwhite bulbs are commonly sold in baskets or bins at your local garden center in fall.) Pots of paperwhites make excellent last-minute holiday gifts for teachers, family and friends. And if you’re really clever, you’ll save some for forcing later this winter. (It’s best to store these extra bulbs in a cool location – around 45 degrees F – until you’re ready to force them.) Imagine pretty paperwhites blooming during January and February (think Valentine’s Day) in your kitchen!

So ready? Set? Grow!

Begin this project by doing a quick inventory of what’s needed. (I like to have all my supplies on hand.) There’s nothing worse than starting a project, only to realize that you don’t have everything you need to get it done!

So here’s what you’ll need:

  • Paperwhite bulbs (bulbs should be firm, not soft or mushy)
  • Clean gravel, marble chips or decorative stone
  • Potting soil (if you’d prefer not to use gravel, chips or stone)
  • Attractive pottery (Note: Always start with a clean pot – take it to the sink and wash out any soil or residue before you begin potting.)
  • Water

Find a convenient place to work, and line out your supplies. I’m ready to start potting – are you?

You have two options when potting paperwhites:

Option 1: Pot them the way you pot houseplants – in well-drained potting soil in a container that has a drainage hole. Fill your container with soil to a ½ inch below the rim. Place the bulbs – with pointed tips up – firmly in the soil. (You should use enough bulbs to fill the diameter of the pot, and the bulbs should be barely touching each other.) The top ¾ of the bulbs should be above the soil – do not bury the entire bulb! Gently add water until it runs out the bottom of the pot. It’s important to keep the soil moist, not soggy, as your paperwhites grow.

Option 2 (this is my preference): Pot bulbs in gravel or stone in a pot that has no drainage hole. (Your pot choices here should be endless – ceramic pottery, glass forcing jars – anything that holds gravel and water can be used.) Fill the container with clean gravel, marble chips or other decorative stones to a ½ inch below the rim. Place the bulbs (again, pointed tips up) on top of the gravel – almost like they’re floating. Fill the container with enough water so it just skims the bottom of the bulbs – don’t submerge the base of the bulbs in water. In time, the bulb’s roots will anchor into the gravel, providing stability. (Keep the watering can handy; as the water evaporates, you’ll need to refill the container.)

Now that the dirty work is done, it’s time to ‘coax’ your bulbs into bloom. Paperwhites aren’t picky – they’ll grow and bloom just about anywhere in the home. But here’s the skinny on growing great paperwhites: It’s best to start them off in a cool, dark room (45 to 50 degrees F) until the shoots appear in the center of the bulbs. The shoots are actually the green tips of the leaves that you’ll see. After that, your pots can be moved to a more desired location.

When all is said and done, you should be enjoying the unmistakable fragrance of your paperwhites five to six weeks after planting. If you need to “light a fire” under any slowpokes, warmer temperatures (above 65 degrees F) will speed up flowering. (And just as you would expect, cooler temperatures will slow them down a bit.)

While you can place your paperwhites anywhere in the home, cooler-temperature areas (below 65 degrees F) are preferable, because paperwhites tend to “stretch” when temps are too warm. Stretched plants have weak stems that can’t support these fragrant flowers – and no one wants toppled stems of paperwhites!

paperwhites make great instant presents. Cover plain pots with decorative florist foil, add a bow, and it’s the perfect hostess or teacher gift! You can do this with bulbs that you’ve just potted up – and let the recipient do the forcing – or give away pots that you’ve already forced.

Happy growing – and happy gift-giving!