Grow Paperwhites Without Soil, All Winter Long

paperwhites paper-whites narcissus blossom white flower

A cluster of fragrant paperwhite blossoms. Photo: ceasol via flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0.

Most people think of paperwhites as holiday bulbs that should be grown in time to bloom by Christmas. But there’s no reason why these delicate blossoms can’t cheer up your home all winter.

Part of the daffodil family, paperwhites, or paperwhite narcissus, produce fragrant clusters of flowers that can be easily forced to bloom indoors, even without soil. In fact, growing them in glass containers with rocks and and roots exposed can be quite beautiful.


How to plant and grow paperwhites without soil, using water and stones

1. Find an assortment of glass containers
To plant your paperwhite bulbs without using soil, you’ll first want to round up some clean glassware. Mason jars, glass bowls, and hurricane lamps will all do. A random assortment is fine; it’ll lend variation to a display. The vessel doesn’t need to be especially deep, just big enough to hold the bulb or bulbs that you’re adding, plus the growing matter.


2. Collect the growing matter
Rocks, stones, pebbles, or even sea glass can be used. Pebbles can be purchased ready to go or collected from outdoors. If using beach glass, be sure to clean it thoroughly, as the salt residue can damage the bulbs and prevent proper growth.


3. Arrange and plant the bulbs
Place roughly two to three inches of growing matter in the container. Add one or more bulbs. If your container is a snug fit for the bulbs, this should be enough to support the bulbs as they grow. However, you can also add another inch or so of pebbles on top to help keep them upright when stalks appear. (This video from White Flower farm has some good visual cues for arranging paperwhite bulbs.)


4. Just add water
Pour water into the container. It should reach just to the base of the bulbs and no higher. Bulbs sitting in water will begin to rot. Add water over time as the level dips below the base of the bulb. (Perfectionists: Get more tips on root care.) Place container in a spot with bright, indirect light, and away from heat sources.


5. Stake the stalks. Or don’t
The plants will begin to flower in about four to six weeks. Many people stake them up to stand erect, though we don’t mind when their slender, graceful stalks swoop and bend under the weight of their pretty flowers.

Though paperwhite bulbs can be stored in a cool, dark place in paper bags, if you have bulbs left over or find some on sale, why wait for next year to enjoy them? Winter is long and cold, and paperwhite narcissus, as its name implies, lives to serve you with its beauty, dreary as the world outside may be.


All photos by Maaike Bernstrom Photography, except where noted.

Meaghan O'Neill is a writer, editor, blogger wrangler, and the founder of Puddingstone Post. She was formerly editor-in-chief of TreeHugger, Discovery Channel online, and TLC's Parentables. Her writing has appeared in numerous print and online publications, and her book, Ready, Set, Green: 8 Weeks to Modern Eco-Living (Villard/Random House) was published in 2008. She lives in Newport, RI with her family.

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