University of Vermont Extension
Department of Plant and Soil Science
Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont
A popular and
easy-to-flower bulb for late fall and the holidays is the paperwhite
smelling paperwhites can be coaxed into bloom with very little
effort. Prepotted paperwhites can be purchased at many
garden stores. All you do is add water! These potted bulbs also make
a nice gift,
or a fun activity for children.
The correct term
is actually "forcing" as you are forcing the spring-flowering bulbs
to fast-forward their natural growth cycles and bloom in winter
bulbs can be forced--grape hyacinths, tulips, daffodils, and
example--but paperwhites are probably the easiest as they don't
require a long
cold storage period to root.
produce small, star-shaped flowers that will last for several weeks.
varieties have pure white flowers, others have white perianths
with pale yellow "cups" in the center. Paperwhites, which come from
the Mediterranean, are tender bulbs and not suitable for outdoor
Vermont. However, most garden centers and seed catalogs sell bulbs
locally, choose healthy bulbs with no soft spots or signs of
Store in a cool, dry place until time to plant.
bloom about four to six weeks after planting, so plan accordingly if
flowers for the holidays or other special occasions. For continuous
throughout the winter, plant bulbs every two weeks from late fall
containers, about three to four inches deep, without drainage holes.
You can find
these specially designed containers for forcing at many garden
about two inches of washed pebbles, or large glass beads similar to
(available at craft stores and some garden stores) in the bottom of
container. If using the colorful glass
beads, use a clear container so they can be seen. Or, similar to
other forcing bulbs, you can
plant in pots with soil.
Gently place the
bulbs, pointed side up on the gravel or beads. They should be close,
touching. (Five bulbs will fit nicely in a six-inch pot.) Then add
pebbles around the bulbs to hold them in place. If using soil, make
bulb tops are at or above the surface.
The tricky part is
watering the bulbs if not in soil. You want to add just enough water
so it reaches
the base of the bulbs. You don't want the bulbs to sit in water as
cause rot. Maintain this level of water throughout the growing
probably need to replenish the water every two or three days. Don't
bulb already contains the nutrients it needs.
container in a cool, dark place (about 50 degrees F) for a few weeks
green shoots appear (but don’t forget about them). Then move to
light (generally, a window with southern exposure). Too little
light, and the
plants will grow leggy as they stretch to reach the light.
temperature should be 60 to 65 degrees.
To prolong bloom,
after the plants begin to flower, remove them from direct sunlight
and place in
a cooler, less sunny part of your home. Paperwhites require USDA
zones 8 to 11 outdoors,
they can't be planted successfully outside in the north, nor can
they be saved
to force again next year. Nevertheless,
they provide easy, inexpensive, cheery, and long-lasting flowers.