Growing Paperwhites -- Just Add Water

A well-placed container of narcissus brightens any dreary room.


Containers of fragrant, flowering narcissus are wonderful sneak previews of spring, and a wide array of narcissus does well when forced. Hardy-blooming outdoor species herald springtime indoors with their vibrant trumpets. Narcissus tazetta, commonly called paperwhite, is a tender species exclusively bred for indoor forcing. Easy to pot up and nearly 100 percent successful, paperwhites are also fragrant, filling a room with the scent and promise of spring.

Learn more about other beautiful bulbs, including:

Tips for Forcing Paperwhites:

+ enlarge image Paperwhites can be grown almost anywhere.
  • Paperwhites begin to bloom two to six weeks after you've planted them.
  • Requiring neither cold storage nor soil, paperwhites perform equally well for first-time indoor gardeners and those who have been forcing bulbs for years.
  • In addition to growing paperwhites in soil, you also can place the bulbs in a low dish filled with gravel and water, or if you like, you can even force them in a plain glass of water.
  • Because these tender bulbs flower only once, discard the bulbs once they have completed their show.
  • For a continuous show of color, be sure to start new pots of bulbs every few weeks throughout the fall and winter.
  • Although paperwhites do not require a period of cold and darkness to bloom, it's still a good idea to start them in a cool, dark location. As the bulbs sprout, you can move them to a more prominent location in your home. If the bulbs are started in a warm spot, the flower stalks have a tendency to get leggy and flop over. Cool temperatures help promote stocky growth.
  • If your plants do get tall, stake them with lightweight bamboo plant stakes.

  • Forced hardy narcissus, commonly called daffodils, bloom 5 to 17 weeks after you've planted them.
  • If you purchase bulbs from a mail-order source, select those sold specifically for forcing. If you are hand-selecting bulbs at a garden center, look for firm, double-nosed bulbs.
  • Choose a 6-inch or larger container and fill it with a well-drained potting mixture.
  • Once the bulbs are planted, set them in a cool, dark place such as a basement, garage, or refrigerator.
  • Daffodils need cooling for 12 to 15 weeks to give the bulbs time to set an extensive root system.

+ enlarge image Step 1

1. Fill your pot half full with potting soil. Use a soil mix that retains moisture, but allows good drainage.

+ enlarge image Step 2

2. Place as many bulbs as you can, but don't let the bulbs touch. Their growing tips should be even with the top of the pot.

+ enlarge image Step 3

3. Water the bulbs thoroughly and label each pot with the planting date. Then, move them to cold storage.

After Roots Thrive

  • Once you see roots poking out of the bottom of the pot, or growth at the top of the bulb, move the pot to a sunny spot.
  • Don't move the potted bulbs into the light too soon. They need adequate cooling time before warming up; if cooled too briefly, the bulbs may sprout, but you will be disappointed with the bloom.
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