Need a break from the winter blues? Missing your garden blooms a little more each day? Here’s easy solution – try growing paperwhites indoors right now for fresh, sweet-smelling blooms in just a few weeks!
Paperwhites (Narcissus papyraceus) are part of the narcissus family, like daffodils. They’re native to the Mediterranean, and since they come from a mild climate, they don’t need to be pre-chilled before they flower like other bulbs. That means you can start growing them right out of the box, and better yet – they grow and bloom quickly. I recently started the paperwhites shown here, and it took less than 2 weeks for these beautiful blooms to appear. (Your results may vary. Other sites report anywhere from 2 – 8 weeks for flowers.)
Growing paperwhites indoors is very easy. You don’t even need soil, just a shallow dish with some stones will do. You can get complete details here, but here’s the basic process and a few tips from my own experiences. (I grew these on my back porch in Florida, which during the winter actually mimics the temperatures of most people’s homes pretty well!)
Pack the bulbs close together; they don’t need to be spaced out. They also only need a few inches for the roots to grow, so almost any container will work. Add water to the dish until it covers about the bottom half of the bulb and no more, or the bulb could rot.
To ensure strong healthy plants, paperwhites are best grown in bright, indirect light and in temperatures around 65 – 70 degrees F, just about the same temperature as most people’s homes in the winter. Add water* as needed as the stems begin to appear.
Stems grow tall and straight, with flower heads appearing when they reach 12 – 18 inches. This is the point at which many people struggle with paperwhites, because they become floppy and need to be staked or tied up, like the ones shown below.
There are a few easy tricks to keep this from happening, though. Try any combination of these to grow shorter, sturdier paperwhites:
- Keep paperwhites at temperatures below 70 degrees F, and ensure they receive plenty of bright light. If in a room with a sunny window, and you note the stems leaning toward the light source, turn the container regularly to keep the stems straight.
- Though chilling is not necessary, keeping the planted bulbs in a cool area like a garage or basement with temperatures around 50 degrees F for several weeks before exposing them to warmth and light is said to ensure shorter stems.
- *The most unusual way, but also one of the easiest, is to try “pickling” your paperwhite bulbs by watering them with a very dilute solution of alcohol. This is the method I used, and was pleased with the results. Any kind of hard liquor will work (but not wine or beer), or you can use rubbing alcohol. After the bulbs show about an inch of growth, drain the existing water and replace it with a solution of 4-6% alcohol, and use the same solution to water the plants for the rest of their growth cycle. (Get the full details here.) My plants wound up about a third shorter than a friend’s who grew them at the same time in the traditional way, and did not get “floppy” or need to be staked.
Paperwhite blooms last quite a long time, and can be cut for vases as well. They are extremely fragrant, too much so for some people, but I have noted that while the scent can be overpowering when they first open, the fragrance fades a bit in a day or two. When the bulbs are done, you can try planting them outside in your garden in zones 8 – 10, but they may not bloom again for several years. In colder zones, it’s best to discard the bulbs as they are unlikely to bloom again next year after growing only in water this year. Learn more about other growing options for paperwhites here.
Have you tried growing paperwhites indoors? Tell us about your experiences, and offer any additional tips in the comments below.