Paperwhites are some of the easiest flower bulbs for indoor forcing. Besides amaryllis, paperwhite bulbs rank as the best choice for people who are forcing blooms in their home. While they are among the easiest bulbs to grow inside they are also among the most fragrant of blooms for indoor forcing. The fragrance is a bit controversial; some gardeners love the strong scent they bring, while others may find the scent to be a bit overwhelming. If you love the fragrance of paperwhite blooms, or are unsure how you feel about them, but want easy blooms in your home this winter read my 5 planting tips for growing paperwhite flowers.
Where to Plant?
Outside? Inside in a vase or pot? When you think of paperwhites you most likely associate them with being planted indoors in a vase or pot. While the majority of people plant their paperwhites inside, gardeners in hardiness zones 8-10 can plant paperwhite bulbs outside in their garden for blooms in late winter and early spring. For the rest of us who have snow and cold for the winter months, paperwhite bulbs need to be planted indoors. Fall planted bulbs like tulips, and hyacinths that are popular for indoor forcing require cold temperatures in order to produce a flower bud. Unlike those popular fall planted bulbs paperwhite flowers do not require cold temperatures to produce a flower bud, this makes them easy bulbs for indoor forcing. Not only can these versatile bulbs be planted outside or inside, but they also can be planted in a pot with soil, or simply in a vase with decorative stone. I’ll go into more detail about how to plant in a pot or vase in a little bit, but start thinking of what kind of container you want to plant your paperwhite bulbs in.
When to Plant
Paperwhites can be planted anytime from October through January to enjoy the blooms for late fall and early winter. For southern gardeners who are planting paperwhite bulbs outside November and December is the best time to plant. The temperatures are cool at this time, and this allows for good root growth and appropriate bloom time.
For indoor planting of paperwhites in vases and pots, it depends on when you want to see blooms. Popular varieties like Ziva Paperwhites that are prepared prior to shipping for indoor forcing, will put on blooms within 4-6 weeks of being planted.
Knowing that within 4-6 weeks you will have paperwhite blooms, here are some things to consider. Do you want the blooms at Christmas for decoration or blooming gifts? Do you want to give them as gifts and let your family members enjoy the planting and blooming process? Do you want continuous blooms from your paperwhite bulbs for several weeks? For those that want the fragrant, pure white blooms of paperwhites blooming for the holidays, you will want to plant your paperwhite bulbs indoors by mid-November at the latest. Also, keep in mind that even though you can try to time out the blooms to coincide with a certain date, they are plants and often do as they please, sometimes the timing doesn’t work out. To have the best chance of blooms for a certain date with paperwhite bulbs you will want to stagger the planting dates over a period of a couple weeks. By planting some bulbs each week you will increase the chances of having blooms on a specific date. If you are giving the paperwhites as gifts and are pre-potting them for the recipient to present to them in a pot, it will be best to wait 1-2 weeks before you give the gift, so they are not growing too much.
How to Plant
For outdoor planting of paperwhites, this will be very similar to other fall bulbs you plant. You will want to make sure your soil is well-drained, and that the area gets at least partial to full sun. Plant the bulbs 6″ deep, cover with soil and water the area to reduce air pockets.
Paperwhites can be purchased in a kit and will come with the pot, soil, and bulbs–everything you need to get your paperwhites growing. If you didn’t purchase the paperwhite bulbs in a kit, you will need to find a pot that has drain holes and purchase some potting soil for container gardens. Fill the container with your loose and well-drained potting mix to about 1/3 full. Place the paperwhite bulbs with the pointed end facing up, the bulbs can be very close together in the pot. Fill the soil with more soil, but leave the top part of the bulb visible. Water the container until you see the water coming through the bottom of the pot. Until sprouts form, you will want to keep the soil slightly damp, but not too moist or overly saturated.
One of the most popular ways to grow paperwhite bulbs is in a vase with decorative stone, or in a vase with just water. Vases designed specifically for forcing bulbs work well, as the top of the container is the perfect size to hold a bulb up, and allow air between the bottom of the bulb and the water.
Tall glass vases with decorative stones or pebbles at the bottom are a popular choice, as you can watch the roots, leaves, stems, and flowers grow! When growing paperwhites in a vase or glass container, the most important thing is to ensure that the bulbs are not touching the water. If the bottom of the bulb is sitting in water it will more than likely cause the bulb to rot from lack of air and too much moisture. You will want a slim amount of air between the water and the bottom of your bulb when growing in decorative stone or vases.
If you are forcing paperwhites for indoor blooms, you will want to store the pots, vases or glass containers in a cool but not cold room, around 55 to 60 degrees for about 1 week. This cooler temperature helps to get the root growth started, which is important to healthy blooms. Once roots develop you may move the containers or vases to a warmer room, and place in a brightly lit location.
Paperwhites that were grown for indoor forcing have used most of their energy to produce their fragrant indoor blooms. Therefore, it may take up to 5 years for the bulbs to produce a bloom if they are re-planted. Most people who grow paperwhites for indoor blooms choose to discard the bulbs after they bloom, and will purchase again the following season. If you are planting the paperwhite bulbs outside in the garden, you will want to leave the leaves intact until they yellow and wither, and allow the bulbs to go dormant for summer.
Here are a few quick tips that will help you have the most success and enjoyment with your paperwhite bulbs. Inbal Paperwhites are shorter than most varieties and don’t have as strong of a scent. The drawback to Inbal is they do not perform well for indoor forcing and are best for planting outside in warm climates. For gardeners who want something different than the traditional white paperwhites, I love the Grand Soleil d’Or Paperwhites, they have bright yellow blooms. The yellow paperwhites Grand Soleil d’Or grow well outdoors and are also good for indoor forcing. Ziva Paperwhites are the standard and best variety for indoor forcing, but can also be grown outdoors. Ziva can grow tall, up to 30″ which can be a problem if your container isn’t heavy enough or your vase is short. To prevent your blooms and stems from flopping over, after the first week of planting you will want to give your paperwhite bulbs a mini cocktail. I know that may sound strange, but by mixing 1/2 cup vodka to 4 cups of water when watering your paperwhites you will help to stunt the growth of the stems, leaving you with more compact and less floppy plants. This 5% alcohol solution restricts some of the water and air intake to the stems, without harming the plant. If you are going to try to give your paperwhites a little cocktail, be sure to use vodka that is not flavored, other types of alcohol like beer, wine or dark spirits will not work.
There you have it, all you need to know to grow healthy and fragrant paperwhites in a pot, a vase or even outside. While I do not enjoy their fragrance, their blooms are beautiful and sure to help get through those long winter months! If you try any of the above methods of growing, send us an email firstname.lastname@example.org with your results, we’d love to see how your paperwhite projects turn out!