Have you ever wondered what the lovely white wintertime flowers were, in holiday photographs and homes? Have you tried to grow them and felt they somehow didn’t come out quite right? Floppy, no flowers? Here we have it, just for you – easy-to-follow instructions for bountiful holiday paperwhite blooms.
What we call paperwhites are from the genus Narcissus, commonly known as daffodils. With delicate white petals and a lovely scent, they are icons of the holiday season. What makes this group of daffodils special for our use, is that they do not require chilling to bloom. Native to the western Mediterranean region they are naturally hardy only in zones 8-11, but they find worldwide use as bulbs for indoor forcing, where everyone can enjoy their fragrant, graceful flowers.
What is forcing? Forcing bulbs means that we mimic the bulb’s environmental needs (such as a cold spell) by artificially creating conditions to ‘trick’ the bulb into thinking it’s time to bloom, even in the depths of winter. Any time you see spring bulbs blooming in pots during the winter, they have been ‘forced’. While many bulbs need a solid cold season, paperwhites do not, making them and amaryllis, our number one picks for great holiday blooms.
A Note About Height & How to Prevent Flopping Over
Paperwhite narcissus grows 16-24 inches in height. As their blooms fill in, they may start to flop over. Tying them together with a nice ribbon is an easy fix, or if you have a garden plant support that suits you, it’s a solution.
Pickling Your Paperwhites Makes Them Shorter
Start your paperwhites as above. When they have sprouted and started to grow 1-2 inches tall, replace the water with a vodka or gin solution, with 1 part alcohol to 7 parts water. Watering with this mix will allow your paperwhites will grow just as beautifully, but they will be 1/3 to 1/2 as tall. Here’s a recipe:
- ½ cup vodka or gin (Inexpensive alcohol will work fine. Do not use beer, wine, or other liquors with sugar!)
- 3 ½ cups water
Water as needed.
Paperwhite Planting Tips
- Plant paperwhites every two weeks through the holiday season, ensuring spritely flowers through deep winter. Store bulbs in a dark place at room temperature until planting.
- Once the blooms are done and the flowers faded, simply shake out the gravel and save for reuse. Spent plants may be added to the compost pile or yard waste bin.
Growing paperwhites is a fun family holiday activity with blooms appearing in as little as four weeks. Give it a try – it will soothe your gardening itch and reward everyone with cheery, bright blossoms.