A Holiday Tradition
Growing paperwhite bulbs for the holiday season is one of my traditions. Paperwhites are so fragrant, and they are so easy to grow. Best of all, they can be grown in all kinds of fun containers, so the creative possibility are endless.
Paperwhites are a bulb, a variety of narcissus, and they can be forced to bloom indoors during winter. If timed right, they can be blooming gloriously in your home just in time for the holidays.
Think Outside the Box
I’m sure you have seen the paperwhite kits in home and garden stores. They come in a box and include some bulbs, a container, and planting medium.
But if you want to get more creative, it’s easy to learn how to pot paperwhites using your own container.
Potting Up Your Customized Paperwhite Container
First, pick a container that you love. The only requirement is that it is water tight and a couple of inches deep.
With such limited requirements, you can have all kinds of fun with this. Use a vase, a teacup, a gravy boat, a trifle bowl.
Here are just a few containers that I have used to pot up paperwhite bulbs.
You don’t need soil for paperwhites. They grow best in just pebbles and water.
You can find a wide variety of decorative natural or glass pebbles in the floral department of most hobby stores.
Is your container all glass? Then choose a highly decorative pebble since it will be seen.
If the container is not glass, then in some cases you can just use unglamorous walkway gravel (example to follow).
Next you will need the paperwhite bulbs. For just the bulb and not the whole boxed kit, the best place to go is a garden center or nursery.
Make sure the bulbs you buy are for indoor forcing. Ask if you have any doubt. There are many new varieties of paperwhites for indoor forcing. I have always had the most reliable luck with the most common one, Paperwhite ‘Ziva.’
Plan on spacing the bulbs at last a half-inch apart in the container, so buy your bulbs accordingly. I have found that as long as they are not touching each other, the bulbs don’t mind being crowded in a container, and it makes for a fuller display.
So now that you have what you need, let’s start potting.
Just put the potting medium (pebbles, gravel, or glass beads) into your container at least a couple of inches deep and space the bulbs on top of the medium.
Then add just a little more medium to hold the bulbs in place. Most of the bulb should still be above the surface.
Here are two examples:
You can see how the bulbs are spaced. The bulbs in the green container are in plain old walkway gravel because I intend to put decorative moss over the gravel later to finish the look.
Once the bulbs are set in, just fill the container with water until it reaches the bottom of the bulbs. They need to have access to the water but not be submerged in it.
Once your paperwhites are potted and watered, you can put them in a cool, dark place for a week to take a nap. But I have skipped this step entirely and it didn’t really impact the bulbs that much.
Once they have been in the dark for week, bring them into the light, somewhere in your house not too warm but near a window. By now you should see that the bulbs have started to sprout. Make sure the roots always have water.
It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere
Once the growth on the bulbs gets about four inches tall, your paperwhites are of drinking age and can have a cocktail. Seriously.
This step isn’t for everyone and feel free to skip it if you like. But feeding your paperwhites a little alcohol will stunt the root growth making the plant less gangly and less likely to lean over, yet not impacting how nicely it will bloom.
Give them the hard stuff – 40-proof clear, uncolored booze, diluted with water. Cheap vodka is a good choice.
Mix one part booze to seven parts water. If they still have water in their container and you are just topping off, then their first drink can be one part booze to five parts water.
A Little Support
Even with the booze, the paperwhites might lean toward the light so you might have to stake them. I use decorative artificial berry sprigs (found at craft stores) for stakes since they add a little color to the arrangement.
Finally in Bloom
Here are is my amber glass paperwhite container four and a half weeks after the bulbs were potted.
And here is the green vintage container where I used plain old walkway gravel. Now the gravel is covered with moss and other natural accents.
I wanted the arrangement to look like something growing naturally on the forest floor.
Paperwhites usually boom four to six weeks after they are potted, and continue to bloom for at least a week and usually much longer.
If cared for properly, paperwhites can come back the next year, however it might take a few seasons for the bulb to actually bloom again. So I don’t save and reuse the bulbs, but that is certainly an option for someone who wants to take the time.
I plant several paperwhite containers at intervals during the winter so I always have them booming.
But then again, I am a little obsessed with them.
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