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Plant Indoors Now for a Fragrant Start to the New Year

Plant away the stress of the of the holidays and add some fragrance to the new year by growing paperwhites. Just plant the bulbs, no cold treatment needed, and watch them grow into their blooming beauty.

Purchase firm healthy bulbs from your local garden center or an online bulb nursery. Ziva is the most common paperwhite variety sold for forcing, but there are newer varieties with less intense fragrance, larger blooms and sturdier stems. You may have to wait until next year and order early from specialty bulb companies to find the more unique varieties. So, make a note to do so next year.

For now, plant the paperwhite bulbs available to purchase. You can plant them in gravel or a well-drained potting mix. Both methods yield great results.


Select a shallow, watertight container with sterile pea gravel, pebbles or marbles if you want to go soilless. Add just enough water to reach the top of the stones. Place 5 or more bulbs close together on the gravel base. Cover the bottom of the bulbs with more pebbles to hold them in place. Maintain the water level just below the bottom of the bulbs.

Or plant the bulbs in a container with drainage holes filled with any well-drained potting mix — just leave the tops of the bulbs exposed — and keep the potting mix moist but not wet.

Store the planted bulbs in a cool, 45- to 60-degree, location so the roots can develop.  Move the paperwhites into a bright location as soon as the leaves start to emerge from the bulbs.

Pot up a new container every two to four weeks to keep the blossoms and fragrance continuing for months.

Grow the bulbs in a cool, sunny location to help reduce flopping, or try this Cornell University tested, old time technique to encourage compact growth: once the leaves are 2 inches tall, replace the plain water in the pebbles with one cup of an 80-proof clear liquor mixed with 7 cups of water. But don’t overdo; more is not better and can prevent flowering or damage the plants.

Despite your best efforts, you may need to stake your paperwhites due to the low light conditions indoors. Cut bamboo stakes to length or harvest stems of redtwig dogwoods, willow or others harvested from your landscape. They provide needed support while bringing a bit of the outdoors inside to brighten your days.

Or force them in a tall glass vase.  The tall sides will help support the tall leaves and flower stems as they grow. Add some berry-covered stems or other decorative twigs for added color.

Once they’re done flowering, recycle the bulbs in your compost pile. Forced paperwhites use all their energy blooming and rarely can be forced to flower again. Just think of it as adding your paperwhites to the garden in a different form to help improve your soil.

Melinda Myers is the author of more than 20 gardening books and is the host of The Great Courses’ How to Grow Anything DVD series.  Her website,, offers gardening tips and videos.


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