Indoor Gardening | Paperwhites

I am so excited that the weather will break freezing almost every day this week, I can’t even tell you. Yesterday morning it was -12. To celebrate, I think it’s appropriate to talk about plants.

In November, I purchased several varieties of bulbs to plant outside around the house, as well as 25 or so Narcissus paperwhites. Paperwhites are really stunning, especially since they bloom indoors in the dead of winter when everything else is fairly dormant. The smell is absolutely intoxicating.


(Photo courtesy of Simply Me)

What is even more exciting, is they’re extremely easy to grow. They will grow just about anywhere, and in any planting medium. I have several pots around the house with media ranging from soil to pebbles to shells to nothing but water. You can start paperwhites any time in the winter – I’ve heard up to about February – and they will bloom nicely.

To pot up your indoor paperwhites:

1. Start with whatever large, wide-mouthed vessel you have on hand. I have a few in small baking dishes, mason jars, and pots. Sometimes you can find fantastic wide glass containers at the dollar store for a steal. Same goes with decorative rock. I have purchased rock from Michael’s arts and crafts stores, but aquarium rock would be fine, or beach or river rocks you have collected. I used shells this year since I had bags add bags collected from beach trips.

2. Add a layer of pebbles or shells that is approximately level to the bottom. Depending on the size of your pot or jar, a minimum of 2″ is best. More is always fine.

3. Nestle as many bulbs as you can cram into the pot or jar. Seriously, the cozier the better. This will give you a zillion blooms at once, and help keep them upright until the roots form.

4. THIS IS IMPORTANT: Add water, but only so the base of the bulbs is just barely sitting in the water. If the water is too high, the bulbs will rot. If the water is too low, they will dry up. Less water is better. As long as the bottom of the bulb is just barely damp, the roots will grow down into the water.

5. Sit back and enjoy. Depending on the temperature in your home and the amount of light, bulbs will start to grow in about a week, you will see roots in about 2 weeks, and flowers in as little as 4 weeks. This is all dependent on where your plants are located. A sunny, south facing window is best. These babies can take a lot of direct sunlight.


Any compact baking dish will work well. This is a four quart CorningWare dish. I added about 2″ of shells into the bottom and nestled the bulbs in. They are happily growing away on the kitchen table. I also placed eight bulbs into a Pyrex loaf pan. The loaf pan is a great size for setting on a window sill since it’s long and narrow.


Two of these three are filled with rocks and shells. As you can see, any amount of planting medium works fine. The roots will grow down through and around the shells and stones. The middle bulb is placed directly in a bud vase with the base just touching the water. This is also fun because you can see the roots do their magical thing and they will eventually fill up the vase.


This is a little difficult to see, but I planted these two in soil. The terra cotta pot is nested inside of a decorative ceramic pot. Even in soil you can plant them directly next to each other. I had hoped to fit three in there, but the bulbs were just a little large. When you plant in soil, be sure the soil stays damp, but not saturated.

I also want to make note of a few additives you may wish to take advantage of:

1. For bulbs in water, sometimes the water takes on a particularly funky, sulphury smell. I have heard that adding a tablespoon or two of aquarium charcoal will help absorb the odor.

2. Also for bulbs in water, as the stalks grow, sometimes they can become extremely long and leggy and have more of a tendency to flop over. When the stalks are 8″ – 12″ tall, add a little splash of rubbing alcohol to the water. This will stunt the growth and keep them from becoming too lanky.

This is my first year growing paperwhites, and I’m hoping to find out a way to store them for next year, too. Does anyone know of a good way to store them? Have you grown these before? Please let me know. Also, I’m always looking for additional information so share your secrets to perfect indoor bulb growing!