we like it wild: paperwhites

As we kick the holiday season into high-gear we’re already thinking about the fun parties and celebrations we’ll be attending in the next month. Whatever the occasion, it’s always nice to show up on someone’s doorstep with a thoughtful gift in hand for the hospitable host or hostess. Forced bulbs are an inexpensive and creative way to give your host a lasting reminder of a successful party, and add a little bit of life (and fragrance) to the otherwise cold winter months. No need to mess around with dirt; just keep a few supplies on hand (bulbs, gravel, containers) and you’ll always have a gift just minutes away. You can start some in your own home to watch and enjoy until you send them off to their new owners!

Usually bulbs rest during the winter, but during their dormant months you can trick them into thinking it’s springtime, and with the right conditions you can have beautiful blooms in several weeks. We purchased some paperwhite bulbs from our local hardware store for about a dollar a piece. Most nurseries, garden shops or hardware stores with gardening sections will have a small selection of bulbs to choose from. The bulbs we chose already had some green shoots and were ready to be planted. Paperwhites will usually only bloom once when forced and watching the process up close is a true treat.

CLICK HERE for the full post (and more beautiful images) after the jump!

We like to collect containers throughout the year, and a quick trip to the flea market or thrift store will turn up dozens of viable options. You’ll want to spread a good layer of gravel down, rest the bulb root side down on top of it, and then cover up just the very bottom of the bulbs with gravel as well. Choose a container that’s large enough for the bulb to breathe and develop a root system; you’ll want to leave about ½ inch between the bulb and the edge of the vase. The idea is that the gravel will provide a sturdy foundation for the roots as the stalks grow in the following weeks. Just add enough water to touch the bottom of the bulb. Make sure to keep the level consistent, the roots dry up quickly and a submersed bulb will rot.


The hardest part is over! Tie it up with a ribbon and Mother Nature will do (most) of the rest! Make sure to leave your host with some instructions on how to proceed over the next few weeks:

1. Keep the water filled just to the bottom of the bulb. Not too much!
2. Store the vase and bulb in a cool spot out of direct sunlight.
3. A cool windowsill with indirect light works the best. A bulb left in a spot that it too warm will get very leggy and topple over. Bulbs grown in cooler conditions will become bushier and will last for up to two weeks longer!
4. If your stalks become too tall and begin to lean over you can use a slender stick to add support. Just push the stick down into the gravel by the base of the bulb, and use some narrow ribbon or twine to tie up the leaning stalks to the stick.
5. As flowers begin to appear in the next few weeks pluck off any spent blooms. This will encourage the new waiting buds to open. Enjoy!


  1. inkling says:

    Best post ever! I love paperwhites. It’s think it’s always nice to have greenery and flowers around the house and giving them away as gifts are a brilliant idea! :))

  2. danielle says:

    this is a great idea for gifts – thank you!!

  3. I love paperwhites but they always get so tall and keel over. Any ideas on what to do about this, other than leaning them against a wall, or gathering the stems together with ribbon?

    1. joni says:

      mix a 4-6% alcohol solution a week after you start them. this will dwarf their size by 1/2.

  4. Ah, I just saw the stick tip! I posted too quickly…thanks, ladies!

  5. jane says:

    These are beautiful! I love the white and metallic long planter, is that vintage? or can you provide the source. I would love to find one similar

  6. Deirdre says:

    Not to be crude, but in my experience paperwhites smell like urine. Is there a variety that smells better?

  7. Gry says:

    Love your blog. I`ve added it as one of my favourites on my own blog. Lots of good ideas and lovely photos.
    best regards Gry (Norway)

  8. Novi says:

    Oh the wonderful scent that fills the room with these white beauties! Thanks so much for the tips!!

  9. Quinn says:

    OH I love these ideas!!! I think I’ll be giving these away this year as neighbor gifts – just beautiful!

  10. Rebecca says:

    Also it is easy to find fish tank gravel in many colors. :)

  11. Erin says:

    Great reminder: this is a fantastic, affordable gift idea! I read somewhere that adding a small amount of alcohol to the water keeps paperwhites from growing too tall. Has anyone else tried this? Does it work?

  12. i saw these at home depot this week and almost bought them! lots of pretty colors available

  13. Jenn says:

    Ooh perfect timing! I bought a bunch of bulbs yesterday to do just this!

  14. Tara says:

    I have always wondered how to do this. Now I know why all of my bulbs rotted.

    Once these are done blooming, is there someway to save the bulbs or would that be the end of them?

    Can I do this with any type of bulb?

  15. This is great! The florist across from my office has the bulbs for $1.25…just saw them yesterday! Running out the door…

  16. sasha says:

    Ah, very, very cute!:)

  17. Jesse Lu says:

    Oooh, I love paper whites and hyacinths… Thanks for reminding me to plant some of these buggers!

  18. Alix says:

    I’m with Deidre — cute flowers, but they absolutely reek. Can’t stand to have them in the house. Is there a less pungent variety?

  19. I just potted some with the kids. They grow quickly enough that even little ones stay interested. Of course since they are sisters, they are racing to see whose blooms first.

  20. kristen says:

    I adore paperwhites! my secret to keeping them standing up straight is to add a bit of gin to the water (I believe other hard alcohol works, too). this trick reduces how high they grow and therefore they are not as apt to flop over.

  21. Holland says:

    Amarylis are scent free, have a larger more beautiful blossom. Try those if the paper white smell is too pungent. ;)

  22. hrhkat says:

    I have tons of paperwhite just blooming now on each side of the walkway leading to my pool area…I always have huge bunches of them in vases, but after a day or two the smell (which I usually love) gets so strong I have to move them to a guest room for awhile or I get a headache lol. I have low dark red rose bushes and between them grows the white paperwhites, it looks so great for christmas time with the white and red color scheme.

  23. hrhkat says:

    @ Tara,

    Depending on where you live, bulbs should always last from year to year. Ive had my paperwhite bulbs for a good 5 years now (I also have tons of other types such as tulip, daffodil, Hycinth, amarylis, etc). You can dig up all your bulbs, clean them off, cut most of the roots off, and store them in a dry, cool place, in a brown paper bag until they are ready to be planted again the next year. I keep mine in the ground all year long because the soil where I live is very dry throughout the year until the autumn/winter months so they dont rot…they can dry out though if not occasionally watered (but thats because of where I live).

  24. Ali says:

    I just planted all my paper whites for the season!! I want to try doing one without rocks…I have an old milk bottle that would be perfect to do it in! Thanks for the idea!

  25. the mouse says:

    There’s something so exciting and botanist-like about watching forced bulbs grow. Paperwhites are such a classic holiday bloom and Apple Blossom Amaryllis are lovely too — they don’t smell once past their prime.

  26. Studio Choo says:

    Paperwhites definitely have a stong scent; some people like it- some don’t! One bulb goes a long way for fragrance. We read about the alcohol trick online too, we’ll try it out! Jane- the planter is vintage, contact us for purchase info at hello@studiochoo.com.

  27. love!
    i just bought some paperwhite bulbs the other day…
    i have to tell you how much i love your “we like it wild” series….it’s right up my alley! :)
    keep up the good work ~

  28. rachel says:

    thanks kristen, never knew that! now i can keep my paperwhites a lot longer! love paper whites!!!


  29. Chi Hiu says:

    paperwhites* Back home, my mom always put a plant or two of paperwhites during Chinese New Year =]

  30. Rebecca says:

    so pretty! I love the white containers too.
    I actually have paperwhite candles from PB and it smells just beautiful.

  31. jen says:

    alcohol will work to keep the stems shorter so you don’t have to stake them. You can use gin/vodka or rubbing alcohol. For rubbing alcohol do 1 part to 9 parts water, for gin or vodka, its 1 part to 20 parts water. Make sure when you refill the water to use the same solution mix!

  32. Sammy says:

    Thanks for this post! I have never forced bulbs before, but will be trying this! So pretty.

  33. Bonnie says:

    Have loved all your comments about paper whites. I personally love the scent, plan to get more to use in the guest bedroom. Will they survive in zone 7 in the ground and when to plant for most of the season?


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