Forcing Paperwhites/ Narcissus Bulbs

Paperwhites or narcissus are named after the mythological character Narcissus. There a few different versions of the myth of Narcissus (some including the nymph Echo & a curse) but most end with the haughty handsome boy falling in love with his own reflection in a pond and staying there loving himself until the day he dies. (hence the term "narcissist.")

A narcissus flower is said to have bloomed in the spot after his death.

Every Winter I think about forcing paperwhite bulbs. I just love the idea of having fresh flowers all winter & of course the small is insanely good. (I tried it one year but they don't do very well when you don't water them.) But THIS year, I'm doing it. I want that smell and I want those beautiful little white fowers all over my house. A neighbor of mine forces amaryllis & other bulbs as Christmas gifts & I think it's just a perfect idea. She times them so they're in bloom when she gives them.
I'm going to give them to all of the people in my life who love themselves too much as a hint for them to change their narcissistic attitudes- it's about time! (hahahah no, totally kidding... I'll give them to the people I love too much ;)
If you're anything like me & often a little short on time (and you're giving it to someone who you think might enjoy a mini-project & the waiting & watching for blooming bulbs) then you could also make them a pretty bulb-forcing kit with all of the ingredients needed: beautiful container, stones/gravel/etc., a bulb, and directions. How perfect are these paperwhites in julep cups (real simple mag) below?!
I'm loving them on this Christmas mantle (below, Martha Stewart):
And look at this huge trough on a kitchen island from here :
And pretty much anything in an urn is gorgeous to me (image below from
I'm loving the wild-vintage look in the photo below (from the Netherlands Flower Bulb Information center). Clear glass vases are easy to come by (in fact, pilsner glasses from a place like Ikea would be really beautiful & affordable) and I love seeing the root systems. A very raw/ natural look:
There are so many different options for planting. One of my favorites (and I cannot find the photo I'm looking for- arg!!) is to use vintage tea cups. Oney teacups are so inexpensive at flea markets & thrift stores and would make a beautiful gift. Check out this gorgeous metal (can't tell if it's copper or something else from the pic, pot below:
And they look perfectly simple in even just a plain white pot (
Here's a quick How-To for forcing paperwhites:
( I got the information from an article on with photos by Kerry Michaels)

1. Pick your container: If it's tall, you won't need to stake the paperwhites when they eventually bloom, but if it isn't, be prepared to have stakes, chopsticks, etc.

2. Add 2-4 inches of stones, pebbles, gravel, anything non-porous to your container. (This keeps the bulbs in place & out of the water.. you just want the roots in the water.)

3. Add the bulbs. If you're doing multiple bulbs , make sure they're all at the same level & nestled into place so you can keep the roots (not bulbs under water- bulbs will rot)
4. Water & Alcohol:
***UPDATE*** I've gotten lots of great emails & comments from readers who've grown narcissus themselves and they mention adding alcohol to the water to keep the plants from becoming too leggy. They say to just use water until the first sign of a green shoot arrives and then use approx 1 part alcohol to 10 parts water or 4-6% from that point on. (There are lots of different ratios floating around out there for how much alcohol to use & the article I read said no more than 10%.)

4. They do best in a cool spot out of direct sunlight for a couple of weeks. After they root, put them in a bright warm spot to speed up flowering. (The author of the article says she just keeps them on her kitchen countr the whole time.) Once they bloom (4-6 weeks after planting) you might need to stake them with something to keep them from falling over.

Here are a few inexpensive sources I found & thought I'd share with you:

For a vase similar to the one in the image above, try here (2 for $8.98)

Buy (already started/ forced?- It was hard to tell) bulbs here: $16.95 for $25

And here there's a deal with 30 for $19.95 and 15 for $10.95

I'd also heard that Walmart has them but don't have one near me...

SO, I'm going to give it a go this year & of course I'll take pics & show you how it goes when they bloom. I'm very impatient with these sorts of things but I'm going to try my best to water the bulbs this time!! (Image below from Country Living) I want these flowers!!!



image #1-, image 3-


Hilda said...

I wrote about paperwhites recently on my garden blog.

I included some tips for preventing the long, leggy growth that makes the stems flop over (this is the most common problem with growing these indoors).

You can find it by cutting and pasting this URL into your browser:

Living It At Home said...

Beautiful images....I can almost smell their heavenly scent! Thanks for all the wonderful info. It always makes it easier when you are well informed and have all the right tools. They are so cute and will be able to get me through winter!

I have so many "projects" in the planning stage that I hope I can include forcing bulbs indoors. The one I especially want to do is a "table top Christmas tree". I just posted about it today. I can't wait to get started.

How is your stenciling going? I can't stop thinking about it! I am trying to figure out where I can incorporate a stencil or two into my home! Can't wait to see more...


Janell @ House of Fifty said...

Good luck...not ready to try this myself, but they look beautiful! Janell

Jennifer said...

I got some from a florist last year already going and the bloomed the week of Christmas (just like they said they would). I loved them, and this reminds me, I need to go grab some for this year!

Erin {House of Turquoise} said...

They certainly look beautiful, and I bet the smell is just heavenly! I'd love to have some in my own home!

Linda@ Lime in the Coconut said...

I always start mine around Halloween....and have blooms between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I also like to start some later so I have different sizes.

Two big soup tureens of them on my kitchen table as I write!

Great post!

Pigtown*Design said...

I get a dozen every year and have some in my office and some at home. They always add a good spot of cheer!

Anonymous said...

I love having paperwhites in winter! Although I don't really like how they smell, I love the fresh flowers. :)

One tip for stunting the growth so they're 1/3 to 1/2 their size (so they don't flop over) is to add alcohol. Once the roots begin growing and the shoots are 1-2", pour out the water, then replace it with an alcohol/water solution where the alcohol is 4-6%. Here's a good guide for how to get that %.

DesignTies said...

Love it, Lauren!!
But I always forget to water plants, so I suspect that if I tried to force these lovely bulbs/flowers I'd fail for sure :-( That's why I want to be on your gift-giving list HaHa! Do you think they'd ship very well across the border? Probably not!!
Enjoy growing these lovely flowers!!
Victoria @ DesignTies

Laurel @ Ducks in a Row said...

I've already got them forced - I use paint cans - the quart size. I wrap the outsides with cute wrapping paper and give them as gifts. It's always a hit.

LindsB said...

I love paperwhites, I'm usually really good about getting them started already, I'm so late with everything this year ahhh

Linda in AZ * said...

* Lauren, they're one of the most FUN (& easiest!) things about the holidays!!!

I usually do about 30+ every year... some in "big bunches", others in just small groups of 3-5 for very small areas, and always a few as hostess gifts in some wonderful piece I've "found" (for my gardening friends)... I think it's SOOO fun, soooo PRETTY and SOOO "personal"!!!

GREAT BLOG today, & some new info for me!!! THANKS!

Linda in AZ *

Maria Killam said...

What a beautiful post Lauren, I loved the photos they are stunning! I'll leave the forcing to you though (and I do adore the scent as well!)

Anonymous said...

What beautiful photos. I would be thrilled to be on the receiving end of a bunch of those for Christmas. Cant wait to see how you do with your ones.

Alison Duffy said...

I remember years ago when one of the editors of Domino cleverly did a whole tray full of paperwhites then wrapped them one by one is burlap sacks to give as gifts. It was so pretty and affordable. Why can I never find the time to do it? Ha!

teaorwine said...

Informative holiday posting! I started mine 2 weeks ago and have little sprouts a peepin'.

Kalee said...

Thanks for all of the tips and suggestions. I have always wanted to give growing paperwhites a try!

Sarah said...

i just bought a kit at Lowe's on Sunday. I may plant them today. Says should be flowering in 4-6 weeks. We'll see!

Peggy and Fritz said...

Love your post on paperwhites - great idea about the tea cups - I actually collect vintage tea cups and might have to try that or find some inexpensive ones and use those as hostess gifts with the paperwhites. I actually use a vintage silver casserole dish - I take the lid off and fill the glass part with water and bulbs and let the paperwhites grow. It's the perfect size and the dish is not polished so it looks vintage - you can find them at the flea markets.

Leah Moss said...

Lauren, I love this! I'm doing this for the first time this year too, and am so excited! My mother in law does this every year, and they have the most deliciously fresh fragrance without being overpowering. I especially love how sculptural they look whenforcing them in water not in a pot.

I love the pictures you've collected.

elizabeth said...

I just potted up a half dozen pots of paper whites for
the holidays too. I sometimes use a large circular dish that could be mistaken for a birdbath to put my
bulbs in. It's such a treat to have the aroma of fresh flowers in the house at this time of year..

White flower farm is certainly worth the trip...

Great images..

Christi said...

great images and i never knew the alcohol thing. i plan to plant mine this week. we'll see if it gest done! LOL

deliciously organized said...

I really need to try this! Thanks for the inspiration.

shi(f)t said...

i LOVE paperwhites in my apartment...makes me want to grow them all year long!