Paperwhites Brighten Winter

Narcissus day 18 closeup
Narcissus day 18 closeup

Forcing bulbs indoors in the winter allows you to watch the magic of unfurling flower petals up close. The florets of these Narcissus create small bouquets on each stem.

Paperwhites are especially fun, because they bloom so quickly, and don’t need a long chilling period like most bulbs. It took 15 days for these Narcissus bulbs to flower,  with dainty white blooms. When I first planted them, two of the three bulbs had a tiny tip of green already showing.

Since these bulbs were a present, I wasn’t sure which type they would be, when I wrote about forcing bulbs a week ago. They are labelled as paperwhites ‘Pistachio’, but the only green to be seen is on the long leaves and stems. They have the typical multiple florets of tazetta daffodils, paperwhites.

The top cluster opened first, the initial peek of white gradually expanding to create this lovely white bouquet of florets on the 18th day. Then the other buds opened, each creating a new cluster. Each individual floret has  a tiny corona (cup) which protrudes from the perianth (petals), typical of Narcissus.  The petals are delicate and slightly crinkled, with their rounded edges slightly overlapping.

Narcissus day 19 roots
Narcissus day 19 roots

Here you can see a closeup of the Narcissus roots, which are gradually spreading across the container. Sometimes paperwhites are forced in pebbles when grown indoors. These seem to be doing fine in the soil mixture. Even the tallest flower stem is managing to hold up the blooms without toppling.

Narcissus day 19 leaves
Narcissus day 19 leaves

The thick leaves of the paperwhites rise up, creating a miniature forest at eye level.  Some gardeners have experimented with adding a small amount of alcohol when watering the bulbs, to shorten the stems, and keep the flowers from flopping. Mine have managed to keep a mostly erect posture, despite remaining sober.

Narcissus day 20 newer flowers
Narcissus day 20 newer flowers

These are the smallest and second smallest flowers on day 20. There are 4 or 5 more buds ready to open, and each will create a new cluster of pretty white daffodil flowers.

Narcissus day 20 smallest flower
Narcissus day 20 smallest flower

Fresh growing bulbs brighten up the house on a winter day. Do you have any bulbs opening, either forced indoors, or growing outside?

45 thoughts on “Paperwhites Brighten Winter”

  1. Adding alcohol – that’s a new one on me! I would have thought it would cause flopping, not the reverse!
    I’ve got my first snowdrop flowering outside (Galanthus elwesii). It flowers extremely early. All the others are just showing the tips of their leaves.

  2. Hello there NS ! .. I have not heard of the alcohol trick either .. now that is interesting !
    I wish I could do bulbs indoors .. but the guys sneeze too much with their scent (maybe if I hide some in my room ? ).. they are such pretty little wonders : )
    PS .. easygardener has it good .. we won’t see Spring bulbs till almost summer ?? LOL

  3. Easygardener, how exciting to have the first blooms. The little snowdrops are such a pretty start to the gardening year. Seeing the green tips of the other bulbs is a wonderful sight in the garden.
    The alcohol is supposed to stress them, causing them to grow shorter and stockier, but still flower well. My paperwhites have been making sideways glances towards the liquor, but I’m keeping it locked up.

    Joy, I guess it’s better to keep the pollen and scent outside if they are sensitive, but a little enclosed sunroom would be nice for indoor gardening.
    Last year, my first bulb started to open during the 3rd week of April, but then a a snowstorm halted it. Blooming didn’t resume until May. This fall I planted more of the earliest bulbs in a sunnier location, to see if I can get the season started sooner.
    I hope you are feeling better.

  4. Beautiful! They look like spring. Here in Austria it’s very cold at the moment (- 20° C) and I really whish spring would come early this year. Next week I’m going to buy some springflowers too!

    I whish you a happy new year.

    Greetings Daniela

    1. Gail, it’s fun to watch both the below and above ground growth. The root system has grown very quickly, like the greenery up top.

      Daniela, we’ve had some deep freezes here too, down to -30 C. Inside, I’ve enjoyed watching the paperwhites grow, while the buds swell and burst open. Each day I check to see if the new buds are ready yet, and take pictures of the day’s growth.
      Have a good gardening year in 2009, with an early spring I hope.

  5. These have to be among my top five flowers. I just love everything about them: the scent, the purity, the simplicity. A new year isn’t really a new year without some Paperwhites. Yours look so beautiful.

  6. These look fantastic Northern Shade – and I’m wondering what sort of alcohol Narcissus would be into… possibly gin, certainly an introspective drink?

    1. Sam, I read that you shouldn’t give them beer or wine, since they have too high of a sugar content, so some dry gin would fit the bill.

      Victoria, I find these paperwhites very pretty. and I would grow this type again, assuming they were labelled correctly. I love the white perianth and corona, with the bright yellow stamens hiding in the middle.

  7. Another person who hasn’t heard of the alcohol trick! Now I’m curious about it. The paperwhites are so pretty and your photos show them off really well. How do you feel about their scent? That’s the one reason I don’t usually force them.

    1. Kathleen, the original research was done at Cornell university, and the amounts and details are given here. I haven’t tried it, so I don’t have my own comparison shots.
      They have a bit of a burnt smell to me when they first bloom.

      Racquel, it would make an interesting comparison to grow some paperwhites, with and without the added alcohol. In the Cornell report, they show the paperwhites with the alcohol are shorter and stockier.

  8. Your Paperwhites looks amazing, so pure white, like a small bits of snow indoors. So lovely :) I need to try grow those beauties next Christmas, when shops have new fresh bulbs. This year I have bunches of sale-bulbs in the cellar and few bags of tulips yet unplanted.

    Thank you for your comments :) I take lots of pictures not-so-nice garden views and at wintertime I make new plans. That blooming blue Iris germanica is a gift from a friend :)

    1. Quu, sometimes it’s hard to find room for all of the bulbs in the fall. You end up digging them in around the perennials and under shrubs, but don’t want them where you might be planting annuals next year, or moving plants.
      The white blooms inside are a lift during winter, and I enjoy seeing the daily changes
      Photos do help you see which areas of the garden you want to redo next season. I enjoy seeing the before and after photos of gardens, as they evolve.

      Daphne, you have your new homemade light table to play with, though, and you get to see all the new seeds sprout.

  9. Beautiful flowers and I love the way they smell. I’m having such issues reading about all the forced bulbs that other gardeners are doing this year. I want some for myself, but didn’t really think about it earlier.

  10. Hi NS! The paperwhites look heavenly – like Angels born on earth! It’s interesting to read the Forcing Bulbs post, but in tropical climates I’m not sure how to manage the same. Plants don’t do well indoors here :( I wonder why… I’ve never been good with bulbs and despite that my Amaryllis did bloom well but still I’m wary of ’em.

    1. Chandramouli.S, many of the bulbs need a cold period, for up to 12 weeks, and gardeners put them in their fridge, or buy them pre-chilled. However, the paperwhites don’t need the cold period, so they are easier to force. They are similar to Amaryllis that way. They are charming flowers, but some people don’t like the scent.

    1. Linda, it does satisfy a need to muck about in the soil. Most of my photography and gardening has been inside lately, but I’m looking forward to more outdoor work when things warm up. I liked your sunny wall of windows for plants.

      Nell, my bulbs are probably wishing that they had gone to your house instead, since they won’t survive if I plant them out later here. I might try it just for fun, maybe give them good cover and see what happens next year. Which type of paperwhite did you grow that had the sweet scent?

  11. Our paperwhites turned out well. Mine only flopped when they got thirsty — for water, not gin, as they were in stones. A good drink and they stood again. They’ve already finished and are planted out under some shrubbery for a year’s rest and then outside bloom.

    I was lucky this year. These turned out to have a nice scent, not overpoweringly musky like some years.

    1. Birgitta, it’s a good thing that paperwhites come up so quickly. You can always pop them into a container to get some blooms. After the excitement of Christmas, January needs some brightening too.

      Nina, I live in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Our official temperature is supposed to get some -40 C (-40 F), but nowadays we get some -35 C (-31 F). Our coldest so far this winter has been about -32 C (-25 F).
      It’s unfortunate that you don’t get reliable snow cover, since that helps the plants in cold weather. It’s also disappointing if you enjoy cross country skiing.

  12. Helou there!
    Thank you for visiting my garden-blog :)
    Where in Canada do you live? I think we have rather same climate, but “nowadays” our winters are’nt that cold anymore…We are happy to get any snow at all. For 10 years ago we also had -30 C and a lots of snow in the winter month (november-mars), but not anymore, sadly…I do miss the snow, I really do….

    Regards from Finland!!!

  13. Hi NS! They are blooming and looking beautiful:)
    Have you put them in the GBBD monthly post…you probably don’t need to, everyone comes to visit anyway;)
    Mine are in bloom and I am still not posting; I’ve been reading everyone else’s blogs and commenting, so I just haven’t taken a moment to post. Will do that soon…(I hope)
    Lovely to see those white flowers (even if they do have an ‘unpleasant’ scent to them:)

    1. Jan, there are six flower clusters open now, with the first one just starting to fade. They are making a good show. I’ve been very pleased with them. Their scent is very faint now, which is surprising, considering that there are many more florets.

  14. Your paperwhites are so lovely and healthy looking. My amaryllis is taking forever to grow. I moved it to a warmer spot and that seems to be speeding it up a teeny tiny bit.

    1. Amy, you should really enjoy the Amaryllis bloom, after the suspenseful buildup.
      The paperwhites have been blooming for a couple of weeks now, and still have some buds opening.

  15. This post is inspiring me to try forcing again…somehow most of my forced things in the past didn’t work too well. Joy, even if your guys are sensitive to the scent (and I can understand that, I love it but it is strong), there are some kinds of narcissus/daffodils which force well and don’t have a pronounced scent, not to mention the amaryllis other have brought up (some kinds of tulips force well, too, but please don’t ask me for advice!)

    NS, I was interested in your reports of the changing scent, something I’ve noticed in many flowers but which is not often discussed. I think after the flowers get pollinated their scent often lessens; I’m not sure how that works with buds coming out, but perhaps the plants just knows?

    1. Pomona, I was surprised that the five flower clusters now open together, have less scent than the first one that bloomed. Even when each first opened, they were much milder, and slightly sweeter.
      Watching each stage of growth is very rewarding.

  16. Hi northen shade, your Paperwhites are so pretty, it is certainly wonderful to force bulbs during the long winter months. I find it so lovely to follow the whole process. My Paperwhites are all in the greenhouse and they are just about 5 cm….:-(

    xoxo Tyra

    1. Tyra, it’s been great to observe the growth of green shoots, and the opening of the pretty white flowers. The whole process is fairly quick for paperwhites, and my bulbs were practically starting when I got them. It shouldn’t be long now before your bulbs start to produce the swollen buds. If they are growing slowly, maybe you won’t have trouble with them getting too long and floppy.
      I love your beautiful, homemade greenhouse. It would be a wonderful place in which to putter around on a January day.

  17. Your lovely photos make me wish I’d started some paperwhites. They look so cheery and would sure brighten up these frigid winter days. Yours are standing amazingly straight. How lucky! I’ve been surprised to read on some other blogs that many don’t like the perfume, whereas I like it very much.
    I had good luck last year forcing hyacinths, but not so much with tulips, which were mostly eaten by hungry mice while out in the garage. I’ll try some daffodils next year.

    1. Kerri, watching a plant emerge and bloom, while everything outside is still wrapped in snow is a very satisfying link to gardening. Now, a month and a half later, they are not quite as straight, but I was very pleased with how they looked. Paperwhites can’t be planted outdoors here, but I was thinking about trying an experiment to store them away, to see if I could get them to rebloom next year. The odds are not good with forced bulbs, but it would be interesting to see.
      I love the scent of hyacinths, and should try some indoors. It is unfortunate that the mice were tulip fans too.

    1. Shady Gardener, there are many tempting bulbs. It ‘s been interesting to read in the comments what gardeners’ favourite bulbs are for forcing.

      We had a bit of melt outside which exposed some ground near where my bulbs are planted, so I had to go out looking for any green sprouts, even though I know they won’t be up for a couple of months.

  18. I started some paperwhitebulbs that my friend gave to me. He said that they had already bloomed, but there are some green shoots that are growing. On to fo the bulbs the shoots are about 3-4 inches tall. I was wondering if that ment that they are going to bloom again? I have been reading about paperwhites a lot,and your site seems to be very promising,(I have my bulbs in small pebles mixed with a little bit of soil, they have some roots, and I water them every day).

    1. Hi # 44. Did they bloom for him this season, or last season? If they flowered for him recently, then they won’t bloom until they go through a cycle. If they flowered last season, and he gave them a cold period, then stored them away, then they could bloom again.

      Forcing bulbs indoors in the winter is a terrific way to bring some spring colour into the house, while watching them grow.

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