When To Start Growing Paperwhite Bulbs For Holiday Blooms

Plan ahead with these bulb plantings, and have plenty of paperwhite bulbs to give away as gifts during the holiday season.

As far as floral gifts go around the holidays, we are big fans of paperwhite bulbs. So easy to grow, and resulting in a happy white bloom with a lovely scent, this plant has broad appeal.

Paperwhite Forced Bulb Vases

Photo: Robbie Caponetto; Styling: Buffy Hargett Miller

Easy to Grow Floral Décor

At Southern Living, we think about Christmas all year round. Once the current year's December issue is shipped off to press, it's time to start planning for the next. Last holiday season, I made it my mission to put some of what I'd been researching and writing about to practice and decorate my apartment. The cypress garland adorning my makeshift mantel (really a media console) and the swag (cut from excess garland) arranged on my bookshelf looked nothing like the pages of our magazine. But I'm happy to report I did find success in one of my seasonal projects—growing paperwhites.

Much to my delight, paperwhites really are as easy to grow as we've been saying. The key is starting the bulbs earlier in the season, so they'll be at peak bloom in time for the holidays. By the time I traveled home on Christmas eve, I had two bulb-forcing vases topped with perfectly droopy and fragrant paperwhite flowers to give my grandmothers. Not only were these gifts simple and affordable, but their organic beauty will also last beyond the holidays.

Grumpy's Paperwhites
Steve Bender

Planning for Paperwhite Bulbs

The hardest part was planning ahead. (Looking at you, fellow procrastinators!) Paperwhite bulbs take typically around four to six weeks to bloom. Start them around the first week of November in time for Thanksgiving or soon after Turkey Day in time for Christmas. Much of the fun is in watching them grow. Plus, the sprouting bulbs are decorations for your own place before they're given to brighten up someone else's.

Just choose a container, lay the bulbs on top of pretty stones or plant them in soil, add water, and you'll have elegant blooms in 4-6 weeks. Paperwhites are native to very warm climates in southern France and southern Spain, so they don't need any chill time at all before they grow indoors. The bulbs grow so fast that you'll be able to notice their daily progress (kids really enjoy watching these plants develop). And once the flowers open, they'll last about 2 weeks.

Paperwhite Lore and Background

These are often called Paper-white daffodils. It is considered good luck if a daffodil blooms in your home over the New Year period. The daffodil is more traditionally associated with rebirth and new beginnings. If we conjure up images of daffodils in our minds, it makes us think that spring cannot be far away.

Some consider the paperwhite to be the birth flower of December. The flowers originate in Portugal and Greece. They are a perennial flower, (growing from a bulb and returning each year by itself) and they grow in bunches. These bunches look so lovely that with some species, you can pick a single grouping of these flowers and make it a bouquet by itself.

Check In With Your Florist

Paperwhite bulbs can usually be found at your local garden shop. They can be grown in bulb-forcing vases with water, shallow bowls with fine gravel or pebbles, or pots with soil. Be careful not to drown your bulbs in water to avoid rot. For forcing vases, fill so water touches the bottom of the bulb; for bowls, fill so water just reaches the top of the gravel. Set them in a cool, sunny spot, and rotate the containers regularly for even growth. This year, I'm going to try the Grumpy Gardener's suggestion and add a little vodka to the water, which helps stunt the growth of the flowers' lanky stems.

Once the bulbs start sprouting buds and blooms, your paperwhites are ready to gift. Tie on a festive ribbon to the vase for easy, pretty packaging.

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