Paperwhites are a beautiful addition to your holiday decor. They add a graceful, delicate touch when paired with other holiday plants such as poinsettias. Paperwhites are in the same family as daffodils, Narcissus tazetta, but there are some differences. Daffodils are planted in the ground in cold weather climates, unlike paperwhites that are grown indoors in such climates. Daffodils bloom in early spring whereas paperwhites are mostly identified with the holidays and bloom largely in December. However, planting paperwhites indoors in succession will provide beauty from late fall through early spring in cold weather environments.
In frost-free warmer climates you can plant the bulbs outdoors in the fall for late winter blooms.
Paperwhites are delicate, fragrant blossoms that come in small clusters of mostly pure white. A few unpopular varieties come in yellow or orange. They perch on slender 12 to 18 inch stalks that are bluish green. In this article I will focus on the white variety and describe how to plant the bulbs indoors and how to care for paperwhites.
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Planting Paperwhites Indoors
You can purchase paperwhites already in bloom, as bulbs planted in a pot, or in bags of bulbs. I enjoy buying the bulbs in bulk because it allows me to determine the amount of blossoms I have in each pot and regulate the fullness of each container.
When buying the paperwhite bulbs in bulk, plant containers every 2 to 4 weeks to have a succession of blooming paperwhites throughout the winter. They usually bloom in 4 to 6 weeks.
Paperwhites can be planted indoors from late fall until early spring. Store excess bulbs in a cool (40-50 degrees F, 4.4-10 degrees C), dark, and dry place to preserve them for later planting. Place the bulbs in a ventilated plastic bag to prevent them from drying out. Do not let them freeze.
It is extremely easy to plant and grow paperwhites. There are two ways to plant the bulbs indoors. One is by using small pebbles or gravel as the medium, the other is by using good potting soil.
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Pebbles as a Medium:
Fill a shallow watertight container with 2 to 3 inches of small stones, marble chips, polished stone found on Amazon, washed gravel or even sea glass purchased from Amazon! Place groups of 5 or more bulbs close together in the medium with the pointed ends up. The bulbs can touch. Be sure that the tops of the bulbs are even with or slightly above the rim of the container.
Add more stones around the bulbs to fill out the container, but leave the tips showing.
Water the bulbs by filling the container to barely touching the bottom of the bulbs. If you water them too high, they will rot.
Place them in a cool bright place for the first 2 weeks. Water sparingly and keep the water level slightly below the base of the bulb. The bulbs will not require too much water at this point.
Once the bulbs begin to grow, they will drink more water. Water more frequently keeping the water level slightly below the base of the bulb.
Paperwhites thrive in full sun. Place them in a sunny location away from drafts.
An alternative to an airtight pot-like container, is a vase. Using a clear vase purchased from Amazon allows you to watch the root growth and is a good prop for a lesson with kids on bulb propagation!
Soil as a Medium:
You can use a good potting soil mix when planting in a container. This container should have a drainage hole. Fill the container 3 to 5 inches high with the mix. Dampen the soil and then place the bulbs the same as above, leaving the bulb tips slightly above the rim. Fill the container with more soil and tamp it down leaving the tips to protrude above the soil line.
Place the container in a cool, bright area.
Water sparingly, trying to keep the soil moist but not soggy. It is more difficult to adjust the quantity of water in soil because you cannot physically see the height of the water.
Use the finger trick. Stick your finger in the soil. If it is dry down to 1 inch below the soil level, it is time to water the bulbs. Do not water the bulbs more than one time per week until they start to grow.
Gentlly tug on the bulb to determine root growth. If it has a firm resistance, the roots have established themselves. This usually happens within 3 weeks. Once the plant begins growing, water more frequently as needed. They may need water up to one time per day once fully grown.
Place them in a sunny location. Click the image below to purchase on Flowershopping.com.
How to Care for Paperwhites
Paperwhites will lean towards the sunlight, so turn your paperwhites as they are growing in order for them to grow straight.
When grown indoors, paperwhites may flop over. Place a bulb support around the growth when it is about 8 to 10 inches tall to stabilize your stems and leaves. Place the support on the outside of the growth but on the inside of the container. You can also use bamboo stakes wrapped with twine encircling the growth. Bamboo stakes can be found on Amazon.
Continue watering when needed to keep your blooms lovely. They should bloom for 2 weeks.
Paperwhites will rebloom if planted outside. However they must be in a warm environment throughout the year in order to survive outside. It will take a couple of seasons for the bulb to produce enough nutrients to blossom.
Interesting Study on Watering Paperwhites with Hard Liquor!
A study from the Cornell University Flowerbulb Research Program came upon a way to stunt the growth of paperwhites so they do not topple over, yet produce large trumpet shaped flowers. The following procedure will only work with bulbs planted in pebbles as a medium.
Plant the bulbs as stated above in pebbles. Follow the same instructions.
Once the growth is about 2 inches, dump out the water and replace it with a solution of 4 to 6 parts distilled spirits such as gin, vodka, whiskey, rum or tequila, and water. Combine one part spirits with 7 parts water. Add this to your container. The bulbs will use this for their moisture and nutrients.
According to the Cornell report, this will result in a dramatic difference to the appearance of your paperwhites.
Read more about the solution and the research at Cornell University Flowerbulb Research Program by clicking the program.
Are Paperwhites Safe for Pets?
Unfortunately, they are not safe for dogs, cats and horses. The bulb contains lycorine which is a crystalline alkaloid. This alkaloid produces vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, stomachache, and excessive drooling. If your pet eats too much of the bulb, it may cause heart rhythm issues, quivering and seizures.
Seek attention from your veterinarian immediately if your pet displays any of these symptoms.
As you can see, planting paperwhites indoors from bulbs is easy. You can use a variety of mediums and containers to display their beauty. With the proper amount of water and sunlight, you can enjoy these stunners through long, cold winters.
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