Dakota Gardener: Growing paperwhites is fun and easy

Tom Kalb
NDSU Extension
Tom Kalb, NDSU Extension horticulturist

Are you looking for a fun holiday project?

There is nothing easier to grow than paperwhites. Just add some rocks and water, and you can enjoy flowers in a month!

Paperwhites are sold online and at garden centers this time of year. You can plant them in a pot with soil, but I like to grow them in glass bowls with water to watch their roots grow. It’s fascinating.

The most common variety of paperwhites is Ziva. It grows vigorously and has pure-white blooms. Bulb companies say Ziva has a spicy fragrance, but I think they stink. Try them and judge for yourself.

I once gave my girlfriend some Ziva paperwhites as a gift. My intentions were nice, but she smelled them and thought I wanted to break up with her. I quickly learned that diamonds are a girl’s best friend; Ziva paperwhites are not.

Other varieties have more delicate and pleasing scents. Grand Soleil d’Or has yellow petals surrounding an orange cup. Chinese Sacred Lily has white petals and a gold cup. Both of these are lovely choices.

Decorate the holidays with beautiful and easy to grow paperwhites.

Grow your paperwhites in a glass bowl. If you don’t have one, your local dollar store is a great place to buy one.

Tall, columnar bowls work especially well. They keep the 18-inch paperwhite stems upright, preventing them from flopping over.  

Place about 3 to 4 inches of stones in the bowl. Rocks or gravel will work, but you can add a special touch by using marbles, glass beads or decorative stones.

Then add the bulbs, gently pressing their bottoms down into the stones. Set the bulbs so they are close to each other without touching. The stones should cover the lower half of the bulbs.

Then add water into the bowl, putting just enough water to touch the base of the bulbs. Maintain water at that level.

Keep your paperwhites in a cool (60s), dark place to encourage strong rooting. Move the bowl to a bright spot after you see roots emerging.

It’s time for a shot of booze. Not for you, but for the bulbs.

Research from Cornell University has shown that alcohol can make paperwhite stems shorter and sturdier.

Dump the old water out of the bowl and replace it using a water solution with 4 to 6% alcohol. You can use 70% rubbing alcohol (1 part rubbing alcohol to 11 parts water). Distilled spirits such as gin, vodka or tequila can be used. These are approximately 40% alcohol, so 1 part booze to 7 parts water will work. Adjust concentrations if needed and continue watering with this solution.

Adding alcohol to the water is not necessary. If you do add alcohol, do not overdo it. Don’t use beer or wine as they contain sugars that may damage the bulbs.

Grow your paperwhites under cool temps (60s) and bright, indirect light. In about a month, your paperwhites will be blooming. It’s that easy!

Decorate the holidays with paperwhites! They are fun to grow and beautiful!