Steps to grow paperwhite narcissus over the winter

  • To keep your inner gardener occupied over the winter, try forcing bulbs to bloom indoors.

    To keep your inner gardener occupied over the winter, try forcing bulbs to bloom indoors. Courtesy of Chicago Botanic Garden

By Tim Johnson
Chicago Botanic Garden
Posted1/9/2022 7:00 AM

If you purchase paperwhite narcissus as bulbs, they can be grown in a pot with a growing medium.

Your container needs to have a drainage hole in the bottom to avoid having soggy soil that will cause the bulbs to rot. Fill the container with a growing medium appropriate for pots. Leave enough space at the top to allow you to set the bulbs, pointed end up, on top of the mix.


Finish filling the pot with medium while leaving the tips of the bulbs exposed. Install the bulbs so that the top of the bulb is level with (or about an inch or so above) the top of the growing medium.

It will be easier to water the pot if there is a half-inch to an inch gap between the top of the pot and the medium. Space the bulbs close enough that they are almost touching. Check the bulbs frequently and water thoroughly when the potting mix is dry 1 inch below the surface (but not more than once a week) until the bulbs begin active growth.

Paperwhite narcissus will often require a cage or a ring of raffia tied around them to keep them from flopping as they grow. Try to grow them at cooler temperatures to reduce the foliage stretch and prolong life of the flowers.

You can also grow paperwhites in a shallow dish filled with pebbles rather than growing medium. Arrange the bulbs close together and cover them with pebbles, with the tops of the bulbs exposed. The weight of the pebbles helps keep them from falling to the side as they grow.

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Water just enough to encourage root growth, without soaking the bulbs. Paperwhite bulbs can rot once planted if given too much water. When gardeners grow paperwhites in gravel with standing water, the roots need to maintain contact with water, but the bulb should not. Letting the bulb sit in standing water can lead to rot.

It is important to maintain the water level so only the roots are wet, topping off the water level daily if necessary. Discard the bulbs after flowering, but rinse and keep the pebbles for future forced bulbs.

I am trying to grow a waxed amaryllis bulb for the first time. The waxed bulb contains all the stored energy and water it needs to grow and bloom, so all you need to do is place it in a brightly lit, level spot out of direct sunlight and wait for it to grow and flower.

Most waxed bulbs have a coiled wire base so that they stand without any additional support. Rotate it a couple of times a week to help it grow straighter. It took some time for my bulb to show any life, so be patient.

• Tim Johnson is director of horticulture at Chicago Botanic Garden,

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