forcing paperwhite bulbs

Marian ParsonsHoliday33 Comments

Last year, I forced paperwhite bulbs for the first time and I loved watching them grow. It was a lot like the gingerbread houses…it was something I wanted to do for a long time and finally made it happen.

So, I decided to do it again this year.  I purchased the bulbs from Terrain, but I also saw them at Home Depot.

There are several methods for forcing the bulbs, but this is the one I used…

ONE – Fill the bottom a shallow bowl with small rocks.

TWO – Nestle bulbs into the rocks and fill bowl with enough water, so it just touches the bottom of the bulbs.  Don’t put too much water in or it could rot the bulbs.

THREE – Tuck moss in around the bulbs and spray the moss with a bit of water.

FOUR – Put it in a sunny spot and watch it grow!  Add water and spray as needed.  I just stick my finger down in the bowl to check the water level and spray every couple of days, just to keep them moist.

Apparently, if you add vodka to the water, the stems won’t grow as long, so the flowers don’t sag.  I didn’t have a problem with sagging last year, so we’ll see how it goes without.

Not having vodka on hand, I’ll have to take my chances.

This year, I also tried planting individual bulbs in ironstone cups and I’ll let you know how the singles do as well.

One more thing, several people have mentioned that paperwhites smell bad, but I didn’t notice any smell at all…not one that was memorable, anyway.  So, don’t let that possibility prevent you from forcing these pretty bulbs if you want to give it a try.

They take a few weeks to bloom, so start them as soon as possible!

forcing paperwhite bulbs

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33 Comments on “forcing paperwhite bulbs”

  1. Marian, you should try hyacinths. They take a bit longer, but their fragrance is “heavenly!” Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family! Argelia

    1. In Germany, where I lived for years, one buys a special “hyacinth glass” (cup on top for the bulb, lots of room on bottom for water/roots) AND a colorful foil cone (to cover the bulb so it does not sprout prematurely). One puts the whole thing in the dark until the roots fill the glass, then transfers it to the light (but with the foil cone covering the bulb, lest it not grow tall enough before it blossoms). When the upper shoot is well underway, one removes the cone — and the lovely bloom will develop and completely perfume an entire room.

  2. I personally love the smell of “paperwhites” and think the scent is heavenly. I always love going to greenhouses during the holiday season and smelling them throughout. Thank you for doing a step by step post on forcing paperwhites and I am going to definitely give it a try this year. I had never heard of vodka stunning their growth either but I will give that a try also as they can become very tall and then you have to tie them or they start falling over.

    1. Yeah, I think it’s just a matter of taste (smell?). I like their odor. My parents had them planted all around their house and I loved seeing them bloom in the spring. The new owner couldn’t stand their smell so pulled them all up (sad). Try grape hyacinths. They are cute and fragrant.

    2. I think when it comes to the scent of narcissus you either love it or hate it. Personally, I’m in the hate category – but I love the look of them.

      So here I am forcing some narcissus bulbs again. LOL.

      I love hyacinth too – but I find the scent absolutely overwhelming.

  3. You can purchase paperwhites in various varieties from nurseries. I used Zimmerman’s Nursery to purchase a variety that was grown to not need propping up. Somehow I think the drooping might have something to do with the light in one’s house as they plants reach for the sun. And the smell to me is delightful and in some cases it’s intensity could be related to air circulation, a “tight” house, and the size of the room. My husband thinks they stink. Ha! They speak to me of Christmas and greenhouses. Wouldn’t it be delightful to have a greenhouse attached to one’s home like at Biltmore! I wouldn’t want to leave it! You did a nice job with your’s in the blue and white tureen. Mine were done in a white tureen and I think the blue and white shows off the white of paperwhites more. Now yellow daffodils in a white tureen would be nice. I will have try to force some of those. They hyacinths are so nice to force too.

  4. Whew! Paperwhites and hyacinths have some of the strongest perfume in the flower kingdom! They smell good, but way too strong for those who are sensitive to perfumes to tolerate indoors.

  5. the smell made it a one time thing for me, and they got really long and messy looking, but I am happy others had better fortune.

  6. The single works great too. I use a clear bowl vessel with high sides. It helps them stand tall.
    I love everything about them!
    Great for shut-ins. Inexpensive gift for any occasion.
    Mine are waiting for December 1, so they will be beautiful for Christmas.
    Thanks for inspiring EVERYONE to give this experience a try.
    YOU rock lady!

  7. The smell must be like the taste of celantro. You love it or hate it. I love celantro but hate the smell of paperwhites. sounds like chemistry.

  8. The fragrance can be strong in a confined space or if you grow large amounts. Beautiful scent in a large area. You can put thin green floral stakes in and tie them with raffia when they get tall to prevent them from flopping over.

  9. When I was in the second grade my teacher did the paper white thing with us as a lesson. I remember
    she put them in the coat room for awhile and brought them out. The same goes for Pachuli (sp) sent.
    I can’t stand it and I can smell it a mile away. To each his own.

    Loved your lesson as it brought back a memory. Thanks. M.

  10. I do paperwhites and red,white and striped amaryllis all planted about a week to 10 days
    apart. There is a long season of floral blooms in the cold winter to enjoy. I enjoy watching them grow, almost before my eyes once established.

  11. Yes, the smell is cloyingly sweet. Mine also were floppy and my husband hated their strong odor. You may have read my comment on my gingerbread houses. I have managed to construct three messy looking , haphazardly constructed houses. I did resort to a glue gun to put them together. I hate to walk away from a failed project, so I may make another batch and try again. Yours are so cute!

  12. Now this interesting! I have always forced bulbs in rocks and water just as you described but I cover them with brown paper and put them in the fridge, or other dark cool place for 6 weeks while the roots form and then I take them out and put them in sunlight for the green part to grow and flowers to appear. Hmmm.. This way may require less time than the faux dormancy technique.

    1. I, too, have always put them in the fridge to ‘winter over’, emulating the winter cold. My mom swore by this method and I learned it from her. She simply left the bulbs she wanted to force in a brown paper bag for a bit, brought them out and planted them as Marian has done. Works every time.
      I like the scent initially, but as they are ‘going off’ it becomes to stinky and different from the first scents of them when blossoming. Same for hyacinths.

  13. Just a word of warning…Paperwhite bulbs are poisonous for dogs and cats. Keep them up high away from your pets!

  14. I plant paperwhites every year. One year when the bulbs flowered I walked into my house and I thought my dog pooped in the house then I realized it was the paperwhites! It really was that bad of a smell. lol. The smell was horrendous but that was the only year I notice a nasty smell from them. Otherwise I think they smell great. Maybe it’s the type of bulb, not sure but I love the way they look. You just reminded me I need to go to the nursery and buy some this coming weekend.

  15. I have my hyacinths in the fridge ready to go in their glasses at the New Year, that way I have something pretty blooming in February. Haven’t done the paperwhites indoors in years. I will try them again with the vodka, because they did used to get leggy. I planted the old bulbs outside under my lemon tree and they’ve been blooming for several weeks, it smells so good walking up to the front door!

  16. To those of us who don’t appreciate the smell,they smell very overpoweringly like dog urine. Pretty flowers but not unless you want visitors to think your dog had an accident inside your house a week ago.

  17. I threw last year’s paperwhites in the shed, still in the dirt and all to “throw out later.” Of course I forgot about them. Found them last werkend at 3″ tall! Who knew! They’re in a bright window doing well. I don’t smell anything with these sinuses so I’ve no idea what they scent they exude.

  18. I love your bowl! What kind is it and is it antique? The green stems and blue and white are gorgeous together!

  19. The same day that I saw this post, I had gone to the grocery store and picked up a copy of December’s “Romantic Homes.” I did a double-take on page 32 when I recognized that bowl of paper whites. Such a big spread! Is it a secret, Marion? Congratulations!

  20. Thanks for the hint about adding vodka to stunt the stem lengths. I had never heard that, and I had avoided paperwhites for a number of years because of the messiness of the long stems and floppy heads. Guess I will try it again for a midwinter lift. It’s nice to have them after the Christmas decorating has been put away. Funny how differently people respond to the scent. I like the paperwhite scent when they first open, but later it’s not so nice. Hyacinths are too overwhelmingly sweet for indoors to me. I guess it’s a genetic thing.

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