How to Grow Paperwhite Bulbs Indoors

If your green thumb is just itching to get out, don’t let all the snow stop it…  Exercise that green thumb by planting some Paperwhite bulbs indoors.

Paperwhites (Tazetta Narcissus) are daffodils you can “force” inside your home during these dreary winter days.  They are easy to grow and may relieve the winter frustrations you and your green thumb are suffering.  Not only that, but Paperwhites produce clusters of small, fragrant flowers you can enjoy for a week or more.

Here’s how to get started:

  • Use an attractive waterproof container at least four inches deep and wide enough to plant a small cluster of bulbs without touching.
  • Fill your container halfway with dirt/planting mix, small pebbles, marbles, or stones.
  • Place the bulbs on top, with flat side on the bottom and pointed side up, close to each other but not touching.
  • Fill around the bulbs with enough additional dirt, pebbles or whatever you used in the bottom of the container so the bulbs stand upright.  (About a half to a third of the bulb should still be visible.)
  • Now add plain water to just below the bottom of the bulb (bulb should not touch the water).  Roots will seek out the water over the coming days and weeks.
  • Check your container periodically to maintain this water level.   (Do not fertilize.)
  • Store your potted Paperwhites in a relatively cool dark place for a few weeks, such as your basement or garage (45 to 55 degrees is ideal).  If you don’t have a cool dark place for growing your Paperwhites, see below for a secret that will help prevent them from becoming leggy and floppy.
  • Relocate your container to a bright sunny location with a cool room temperature when they begin to sprout. (If the location is too warm, your plants could become leggy and floppy.)  Turn the dish every day about a quarter turn so all sides get an equal amount of light.

Here’s a little secret that may intrigue you… Paperwhites like alcohol. Seriously!

Some people just don’t have a basement, garage or other place cool enough for growing Paperwhites, resulting in plants that are leggy and floppy.  One solution recommended by experts for stunting the growth of these plants is alcohol – either rubbing alcohol or something straight out of your liquor cabinet. (Paperwhites do not like beer or wine, so save that for yourself.)

Pour or siphon all the water out of your container when the stems are about two inches tall and substitute a mix of water (95%) and alcohol (5%).  You can achieve the correct ratio, according to gardener Barbara Martin, by using one part rubbing alcohol to ten parts of water or one part “hard liquor” to seven parts of water.  Obviously, it is easier to control the water/alcohol ratio when you plant your bulbs in pebbles, marbles or stones and can remove the water entirely;  not so easy when you plant your Paperwhites in dirt or planting mix.  (However, you can begin watering them with the water/alcohol mixture from this point on.)  Be careful… too much alcohol is not good for you and it could also damage or kill your Paperwhites.

I’m planting some Paperwhites today, and I promise to come back and edit this post when they bloom to substitute my photo for the stock photo from istockphoto.com.  In the meantime, enjoy this YouTube video on the same topic:  How to Force Paperwhite Narcissus in Pots and enjoy flexing that green thumb!

Margaret Woda

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