How to Grow Paperwhites

No bloom captures the serenity of winter quite like the paperwhite narcissus. The simple flowers freshen up rooms with their white petals, bright green foliage and sweet scent.

Paperwhites grow from a bulb that you can purchase in fall. I usually get mine in late October. When selecting paperwhite bulbs choose firm, shiny bulbs and get enough to plant new pots every two weeks for a steady supply of flowers through the winter.

Store the unplanted bulbs in a brown paper bag in a cool, dry location. Because they don’t require any soil to grow, some of your stored bulbs may begin to sprout and send up shoots. Handle these carefully, and plant those with the longest shoots first. Paperwhites will grow in almost anything, soil, gravel or just plain water. However, my preference is to plant them in soil or sand because the bulbs are well anchored and they tip over less frequently.

Fill a pot about two-thirds full with moistened potting soil, push the bulbs in, and add more soil to cover the bulbs, leaving about 1-inch of the top of the bulb uncovered. Keep the planted bulbs in a warm, light place and growth will begin immediately. A 5-inch pot will hold 3 or 4 bulbs, snuggled against each other.

Keep the plants well-watered, and watch the shoots turn green and lengthen. Buds emerge in about three weeks, and blooms will follow a week later.

Display the flowers in cool locations to keep them looking their best. Left at room temperatures, the shoots elongate and make the pots top-heavy. To keep them from growing spindly give them plenty of light and turn the container 180 degrees each day. If the light source is too faint or far away, the plant will strain toward the light making the stems weak.

Once they bloom, I like to add paperwhites as elements to create a number of mini-scenes on tables and side boards. Here are a few tricks I’ve learned in creating these displays:

Paperwhites in galvanized buckets with sheet moss and pine cones. Paperwhites staked with bent twigs. Paperwhites and white amaryllis planted in white enameled pots. Paperwhites planted in shallow zinc trays and accented with pine cones. Paperwhites staked with lichen covered twigs.
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