Snowy white blossoms, spring green leaves and a heady perfume have made paperwhites one of the world’s most popular indoor bulbs – second only to amaryllis. Though the bulbs may be grown outdoors in warm climates (zones 8-11), they are incredibly easy to grow indoors, requiring nothing more than a little water and a bright window. Here are a few tips to help you get the most out of these fragrant, winter-blooming bulbs:
1. Plant paperwhites in groups of 5 to 7 bulbs. Big clumps look more balanced than just two or three bulbs. Use pots (without drainage holes) that are 6 to 8” wide.
2. Extend the show by planting several batches of bulbs. You can do all the planting in one day and then store the pre-planted pots in a cool, dark place. When you are ready to start a new batch of bulbs, just bring out one of the pots and add water.
3. Grow paperwhites in water rather than soil. It works just as well, and weighing the bulbs down with stones helps keep the flowers from tipping over. Washed gravel works fine, as do marble chips, polished river stones, tumbled glass or even marbles. Only the bottom half of the bulb needs to be covered. The roots will anchor themselves by growing around and under the stones.
4. Paperwhite bulbs can sense the presence of water. After planting, add water to the container until it almost, but not quite touches the bottoms of the bulbs. When the roots sprout, they will reach down into the water.
5. Paperwhites get leggy for two reasons. Either they were grown in a room that’s too warm (above 65°F) or they didn’t get enough light. For stocky plants, grow the bulbs in a cool room (50-60°F) and make sure they get lots of bright, indirect light. Once you see buds, move the pot into your living area. Keep the bulbs away from hot sun and heat to extend the bloom time. If the stems do get a bit floppy, use a piece of dental floss to tie them in.
6. Researchers at Cornell University found they could keep paperwhites about 30% shorter than normal by watering them with a 4% to 6% alcohol solution. If you want to give it a try, you can use any “hard” liquor (not beer or wine). Mix 1 part 40% distilled spirit with 7 parts water to get a 5% solution (too much alcohol will damage the foliage). When the shoots are about 2" tall, pour off the water and replace it with the alcohol solution. For more detailed instructions click HERE.
Once your paperwhites have finished blooming, you can snip off the spent flowers and continue enjoying the foliage. Eventually the bulbs can be tossed as they will not bloom again.
In warm climates (growing zones 8-11) paperwhites may be planted outdoors in fall for late winter flowers. Plant the bulbs about 6" deep and 4" apart. There are only a few areas in the country (S. California and parts of Texas) that have the hot, dry weather conditions that paperwhites require for long-term success. In other areas where paperwhites are hardy (zones 8-11), the bulbs are treated as annuals.