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Growing paperwhites: The perfect project

Growing paperwhites is fun and easy.

Bowl of paperwhitesAre you looking for a fun project? There is nothing quicker and easier than growing paperwhites. It is almost foolproof!

Paperwhites are sold at garden centers this time of year along with amaryllis, tulips and other bulbs. You can plant them in a pot with potting mix, but it is more fun to grow them in a glass bowl filled with pebbles (see photo). In this way you can watch the leaves and the roots grow.

Place the bulbs close to, but not touching one another. The top of each bulb should be at the surface.

Water the bulbs, putting just enough water to touch the base of the bulbs. Maintain the water at that level.

Paperwhites can grow a bit lanky. Keep the bowl of bulbs in a cool and dark place for a week after planting to encourage stronger rooting. After about a week you will see roots and leaves emerging.

Dump the water out of the bowl. Thereafter irrigate using a water solution with 4–6% alcohol. You can use 70% rubbing alcohol (1 part alcohol to 11 parts water). Chinese sacred lilyDistilled spirits such as gin, vodka or tequila can be used. These are 40% alcohol so 1 part booze to 7 parts water will work. Too much booze will kill the bulbs.

Grow the bulbs under cool temps (60s) and bright, indirect light.

 The most common variety is ‘Ziva’. It grows vigorously and blooms in a few weeks. Its blooms are pure white. ‘Ziva’ flowers have a “spicy” smell. Personally, I think they are stinky. Give it a try and judge for yourself how smelly they are.

Other varieties have a more delicate and pleasing scent. ‘Grand Soleil d’Or’ has lemon yellow petals surrounding an orange cup. ‘Chinese Sacred Lily’ has pure white petals with a golden cup (see photo). It is one of the first flowers to bloom in China and is celebrated in its Lunar New Year festivals.

Toss out the bulbs after the blooms have faded. The bulbs will not bloom again.


Written by Tom Kalb, Extension Horticulturist, North Dakota State University. Published in the NDSU Yard & Garden Report, September 22, 2014.

Sources: Bachmans, Inc.. 2007. Paper white narcissus. Garden care sheet. www.bachmans.com/Garden-Care/. Twin Cities: Minn..

Miller, W.B. 2014. Ginning up paperwhites that don’t flop over. Flower Bulb Research Program. www.hort.cornell.edu/miller/bulb/Pickling_your_Paperwhites.pdf. Cornell Univ.: Ithaca, NY.

Photos were made available under Creative Commons licenses specified by the photographers: Choo Yut Shing and Nomadic Lass, www.flickr.com/photos/nomadic_lass/8281701275/.

Filed under: Tom Kalb, Flowers, bulbs, Narcissus
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