Paperwhites For Christmas!

December 8, 2013 | By | Comments (5)

I love these paperwhite narcissus forced into bloom inside this wooden box with rope handles! Hint: This would make an excellent Christmas present! Photo: Longfield Gardens

Paperwhite narcissus are the best no-fail Christmas flowers of all. Just place the bottoms of the bulbs in water, keep the bulbs at room temperature, and in just a week or two, you have beautiful, fragrant blooms! This is so easy even my wife, Judy, loves doing it. (Please don’t tell her I said that.)

Paperwhites are unusual in that most are bred in Israel and need no chilling in order to bloom. Unlike other narcissus, however, they’re not very cold-hardy. You can plant them in the ground in the Lower and Coastal South (Zones 8-9) and they’ll bloom around December and January. In fact, they’re so popular in Beaufort, South Carolina (one of the prettiest old coastal towns you’ll ever see) that folks there refer to the alabaster blooms as “Beaufort snow.” Farther north, paperwhites won’t take the winters, so after they bloom just throw them out and buy new ones the next year.

Great Christmas Gift
If you’re looking to really impress someone special with your creativity and taste, but like me don’t want to do any of the actual work, do I have the perfect gift for you! See those paperwhites above blooming in the wooden box with classy French lettering and rope handles? They’re a kit from Longfield Gardens that comes with bulbs, soil, waterproof liner, and decorative Spanish moss to top off the box after planting. Price: $39.95 plus $8.50 shipping. Buy two (you can also order amaryllis) and shipping is free.

What you do with the box after the bulbs finish blooming is up to you. It’s a great looking planter.  I’m saving mine to make the perfect coffin for our old cat, Ketchup, should one day the unthinkable happen. (Please don’t tell Ketchup I said that.)


Here’s our festive Ketchup, humiliated by this get-up, yet still patiently waiting for his Christmas chipmunk. Photo: Steve Bender

Don’t Let Your Bulbs Crash Down
One problem Judy always has with paperwhites she plants herself is the flower stems grow so tall (3 feet or more) that by the time they bloom the stems either collapse from their own weight or they pull the whole container over and smash it to smithereens on our kitchen floor. This is particularly inconvenient if your home security system has a motion detector, because this almost always happens at night.

However, using my customary and expected brilliance, I have uncovered a way to keep paperwhites from growing too tall. And the best part is, it involves liquor.


Shaken or stirred… just doesn’t matter.

All you need to do is add gin to the water. This reduces the bulbs’s height by about a third. You place the bulbs in ordinary water until they develop roots, then replace it with a mixture of 1 part gin to 7 parts water. Freshen the drink as necessary and use the cheap stuff — remember, you aren’t dealing with James Bond. Cheers!


  1. Steve Bender


    There are a new of good narcissus you can force into bloom indoors. The reason people use paperwhites is because this type doesn’t need any pre-chilling and they’re usually available now while other narcissus have already sold out. Good selections to force include ‘February Gold,’ ‘Tete-a-tete,’ ‘Carlton,’ ‘Barrett Browning,’ ‘Jack Snipe,’ ‘Jetfire,’ ‘Avalanche,’ ‘St. Keverne,’ ‘Geranium,’ and ‘Fortune.’

    December 11, 2013 at 2:32 pm
  2. Colin M.

    Grumpy- is there a suitable narcissus for forcing, like paperwhites, that doesn’t have an odor? I am one of the apparently rare individuals who find the aroma of paperwhites to be obnoxious. I find myself shaking my head when I see descriptions of the ‘lovely fragrance’ in the bulb catalogues. I guess it’s all in the nose of the beholder.

    December 10, 2013 at 10:00 am
  3. Nell Jean

    Longview has some gorgeous bulbs. My first choices are Amaryllis and Hyacinths ahead of Paperwhites. After fifty years of water and stones I gave that up in favor of planting in soil which I think gives superior results. The hardest part is choosing colors.

    December 9, 2013 at 8:17 am
  4. Katie

    That is a gorgeous container! Would be fun to force Muscari in it for the spring, too!!

    December 8, 2013 at 2:14 pm
  5. Nancy Maners

    I decided to branch out from the paper whites and do a beautiful red amaryllis this year. $5 at the local big box store and then used my own container.

    December 8, 2013 at 10:12 am

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