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Growing Paperwhites in Water – A Fun Winter Project (How-To)

During the winter months when the garden is bare, it’s nice to look up and see some fresh flower blooms. Growing paperwhites in water, also known as forcing, is a fun way to bring a little bit of spring into your home – even if it’s snowing outside.

Basically, you are forcing the flowers to bloom out of season by creating the perfect environment for them indoors. You can do this process in soil or water, but today I am going to talk about how to grow your paperwhites in water. All you need is a container or vase, and some bulbs!

What are paperwhites?

Paperwhites growing in water

If you are new to forcing bulbs indoors in water, I would recommend starting with paperwhites. Native to the Mediterranean, paperwhites are part of the Narcissus family and are a great choice for indoor forcing. They are closely related to daffodils and are extremely fragrant after blooming. However, some people don’t care for the scent they give off!

Paperwhites do not require a chilling period like many other bulbs, making them easy to grow on the windowsill in the cooler months. They’re also a popular choice as a gift around the holiday season. Is there anything better than having daffodils blooming on your windowsill as the family gathers around for Christmas?

Paperwhite flowers are smaller than daffodils, but they bloom in decorative clusters which makes them look full. The blooms can last several weeks and do not require any maintenance, with the exception of rotating the vase every couple days for even sunlight exposure. Fertilizing is not necessary- the bulb contains all the nutrients the plant needs!

Paperwhites growing in water in window

When to start paperwhites for indoor forcing

Paperwhites take anywhere from 3-5 weeks to bloom. If you’re planning on having some blooms for the holiday season, you’ll want to start the process in November. However, you can begin forcing your bulbs at any time. Because you are growing them indoors and creating the perfect environment for them, you do not need to worry about fluctuations in climate.

When purchasing bulbs, I typically begin looking at the end of summer for fall and winter blooms. You can purchase bulbs online or at your local garden center. Store the paperwhite bulbs in a dark place at room temperature for up to 2 months.

How to grow paperwhites in water

There are two ways to grow paperwhites in water. You can grow them in a purpose-built forcing vase, or you can use decorative pebbles in a clear vase – the choice is entirely up to you!

Daffodil and tulip bulbs forcing
A daffodil and tulip being forced in two different vases

Growing paperwhites with pebbles or river rocks

  • Layer the decorative pebbles to a depth of about 3 inches. Place one (or a few bulbs) in the vase on top of the pebbles. Be sure to plant them so the roots will be growing down (the pointy part goes up).
  • Then, add water to the vase until the base of the bulbs are just touching the water. You do not want the bulbs sitting in the water as it will put them at risk for rotting!
  • Set the vase in a dark place that does not receive any sunlight. The temperature should be around 50°-60°F. Within a couple of weeks, you can expect the bulbs to begin rooting. Keep a close eye on the water at this time. You’ll want to add more water if needed. I would check the bulbs every few days – sometimes they root a lot quicker than expected!
  • After the bulbs begin rooting, you can place the vase in a sunny window and let the plant do it’s magic. Watch the stems crawl up towards the sun and in a few weeks, you’ll begin to see the beautiful clusters of flowers.

Growing paperwhites in a forcing vase

While not as decorative, this method is also very effective. I actually prefer growing paperwhites in a forcing vase because I like the way the roots look!

  • Fill the forcing vase with water and place the bulb on top so it is just barely touching the water.
  • Place the forcing vase in a dark place with temperatures around 50°-60°F. Monitor the water levels during this time. You can expect roots in about 2-3 weeks, though it can happen much sooner.
  • After the roots begin to form, place the vase in a sunny window and let the magic happen! You’ll begin to see blooms in a few weeks.
Paperwhites roots growing in water in window
Bulb and roots in forcing vase.

Tips for growing paperwhites in water

  • Always use high-quality bulbs that are fresh. Do not reuse bulbs from last year. After use, they should be thrown in the compost as the nutrients have already been used up.
  • Do not let the bulbs sit in the water as you will risk them rotting.
  • When choosing where to place your vase of paperwhites, avoid harsh direct sunlight or any place that has a high temperature fluctuations. A windowsill that is away from doorways and receives filtered/indirect light is perfect.
  • After blooming, rotate the vase frequently for even sunlight exposure.
  • Pluck or trim off any dying blooms to encourage healthy growth of new flowers
  • Paperwhites are toxic to pets! Keep this in mind when choosing which location to place your vase. Our kitty is very interested in the stems as they emerge, but pets should not be allowed to munch on any part of the paperwhite plant.

Growing paperwhites in water is a simple and rewarding way to bring some natural beauty into your home when the months get cold and dark. If you’re feeling ambitious, you can also grow other flowers in water, including daffodils and tulips. We like to keep the gardening spirit alive in our home at all times of the year!

Jim Elshaw

Thursday 29th of December 2022

Sweet, I'm gonna try this, thanks for the tips!

Rebecca Peterson

Wednesday 28th of December 2022

Great information about paper whites! And that I can compost the spent bulbs… not save them.