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How to Grow Paperwhites Indoors

Wondering if you can grow paperwhites indoors? You can! Learn how to grow paperwhites indoors in soil or in plain old water with this tutorial post.

Learn how to grow paperwhites indoors in water or soil

Hey all! I have been on a fall bulb kick at the new house lately. I’ve done posts on How to Grow Allium, How to Grow Hyacinth, and How to Plant Tulips. I’m looking forward to seeing them sprout in the spring—but for now, I have indoor bulbs to tide me over.

While you can force many bulbs to flower indoors, it can be tricky. However, paperwhite bulbs are super easy to grow indoors. In fact, you don’t even need soil. You can do it in just water and rocks (the process is similar to the LECA propagation process I use for houseplant propagation).

collage of paperwhite bulbs and flowers

I’ll be showing the process for both methods in this post because I wanted to try out growing them in soil this year. Hopefully in a few months I will have a bunch of paperwhites blooming indoors to share.

What are paperwhites?

“Paperwhite” is the common name given to the flowering perennial bulbous plant Narcissus papyraceus. They are closely related to daffodils and are native to the Meditterranean region, from Greece to Portugal, and also in parts of northern Africa. It has been naturalized in different places around the world, including some U.S. states.

Paperwhites grow from bulbs, sprouting tall green stalks that reach about a foot tall. They then grow clusters of fragrant white flowers. Unlike some other bulbous plants, paperwhites do not require a period of cold before they can grow.

After planting the bulbs, paperwhites grow quite quickly and flower within about a month. Many people time their paperwhites to bloom around Christmas, but I’m hoping to time my blooms with Thanksgiving (we’re hosting this year!).

paperwhite bulb

How to grow paperwhites indoors in water

So let’s talk about growing paperwhites indoors in water first. Because that is arguably the easiest way to do it. All you need is a container, rocks, and water.

Step 1: Gather supplies

I didn’t want to buy anything for this, so I decided to use rocks from our yard. This ended up being the perfect activity when my daughter’s school was unexpectedly closed. Gathering rocks was one activity, and then I set her up at the table with soapy water, a towel, and a scrub brush to clean the rocks.

You can avoid all of these steps by buying a bag of decorative rocks 🙂 But cleaning ones from outside works totally fine too.

glass container
cleaning rocks on a table

Step 2: Add a layer of rocks in the bottom of the container

Next add a layer of rocks in the container. You can use a plastic or glass container—clear or opaque. Doesn’t matter. Recycles old glass jars are great candidates. I used one old candle jar and a pretty serving dish my grandmother gave me.

One thing to keep in mind is that these flowers can get tall and floppy. So using a tall, cylindrical container (unlike the containers I used) can be a great way to help stabilize the tall stems. All you really need, though, is a container deep enough for a reservoir of water and the bulbs.

rocks in a glass jar

Step 3: Fill in around bulbs and add water

Next add the bulbs with the root side down, pointy tip up. Fill in around the bulb with more rocks to stabilize it and hold it in place. All that’s left now is to add water to the container.

Make sure you add water only to the reservoir area of rocks below the bulb. The water shouldn’t actually come up to the bulb. If the bulb is submerged, it may rot. Don’t worry—the roots will grow and find the water!

Refresh the water as needed as it evaporates or is used and keep the plant in a bright, sunny spot. I have mine in a windowsill.

paperwhite bulb
paperwhite bulb
paperwhite bulb in a jar with rocks
paperwhite bulb in a jar with rocks
paperwhite bulb in a jar with rocks
paperwhite bulb in a jar with rocks
paperwhite bulb in a jar in a sunny window

How to keep paperwhites standing up straight

I mentioned that paperwhites can be tall and top heavy, leading to them flopping over. One way to prevent this is by using a tall cylindrical container. You can also tie them together with a ribbon or twine to keep them standing up.

A great trick, though, is to use alcohol. As soon as the bulbs begin to sprout and grow, drain the water and replace it with a solution of 1 part alcohol with 1 part water. Use something like vodka or gin since it’s clear. Ultimately you just need something that has a 40% alcohol content.

You can also use isopropyl alcohol. However, this has a different alcohol content. If it is about 70% alcohol, use a solution of 1 part isopropyl alcohol to 10 parts water.

What this solution does is essentially stunts the growth of your paperwhites. I’ll be using a plant water solution for one batch and an alcohol solution for another. The goal is to stunt the growth enough so that the stems will be shorter and less likely to fall over, but not so much that it kills the plant or prevents it from flowering.

cut paperwhite flowers in a vase

How to grow paperwhites indoors in soil

And if you want to try your hand at growing paperwhites indoors in soil, here are the steps for that. They are pretty similar.

Step 1: Fill a container with a few inches of soil

First fill a container with a few inches of a lightweight potting soil. If the soil you use is too heavy, it will likely rot the bulb. Something like a container gardening or houseplant mix works fine.

paperwhite bulb
hand holding soil

Step 2: Add bulb and fill in with soil

Next add the bulb with the pointy side facing up. Fill in around the bulb with soil, leaving the tip exposed. Water the bulb thoroughly; paperwhites like moist soil.

If you want to prevent your paperwhites from getting too tall and flopping over, you can put your pot in a cool, dark place for two weeks. This can help stunt the growth much like adding alcohol solution to growing paperwhites in water.

paperwhite bulb in soil
paperwhite bulb in soil

Step 3: Place in a bright spot and monitor

Put the planted bulb in a bright spot and monitor. Water the bulb when the soil dries out. Much like with houseplants, overwatering the bulb can lead to rot.

How long do paperwhites last indoors?

Once they bloom, paperwhite flowers generally last around two weeks. They may die off sooner if you choose to cut them and add them to a cut flower arrangement.

Can paperwhite bulbs be reused?

Yes. After the plant is finished flowering, make sure to let the leaves die off naturally. They will shrivel up and die when they are ready. In the meantime, they are collecting valuable energy and storing it in the bulb.

Once they are totally dead, you can remove all of the foliage and store the bulbs in a cool, dry place. Beware, though, that bulbs may begin to peter out after a few years. Especially if you don’t let the foliage die off completely before harvesting and storing the bulbs.

closeup shot of paperwhite flowers

How long do paperwhites take to bloom?

Paperwhites take about 3 to 4 weeks from planting to flowering. And then the flowers last about 2 weeks. So if you want to have paperwhites in bloom for Thanksgiving, plant them the first week in November.

For Christmas paperwhites, plant them right around Thanksgiving. For foliage throughout fall and winter, you can plant a round of new paperwhite bulbs every few weeks! 🙂

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collage of paperwhite flowers and bulbs that says how to grow paperwhites

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