Forcing Winter Bulbs: Amaryllis and Paperwhites

I just posted an article about how to force winter branches, which is probably the less common type of winter forcing of plants that is done in comparison to forcing bulbs, mainly because success rates are higher (i.e. branches can be damaged when cut or improper storage and hydration of the branches may result in blossoms falling off) but also because it’s quite easy to purchase bulbs, bring them indoors, water and wait.

lovely winter amaryllis

And of course you would want to do that, if the result is a gorgeous spread of flowers that typically grow outdoors or somewhere in humid and tropical lands, why not?   

Amaryllis Bunch

I personally think trying both out for the winter is: 1) very relaxing- I don’t know, but working with dirt seems to lower my stress levels, especially when I’m not working with it in the  heat of the midday summer out in the ‘real’ garden 2) therapeutic- who doesn’t love all that green and pop of color, whatever it may be? 3) economical- many bulbs can be used over and over again when stored properly during dormant times

Beautiful Amaryllis Bunch

Amaryllis bulbs (shown below) are a little different than the paper whites you see everywhere in the stores and garden centers in the winter. I also think they’re a bit easier because the kind I buy actually grow without any dirt, but need the right environment and an eye on its water level to grow properly.

Amaryllis sign

I got these from White Flower Farm and used a glass vase (easier to see the water level) with clear glass marbles to place the bulb in. I added water that definitely touched the root of the bulb because it went up about halfway up the bulb. If it went down at all, the water was refilled to remain at that level.


The result is this gorgeous type of flower, which comes in either white, red, or white with red stripes. You can get the bulbs at many garden centers during the winter and simply begin this process indoors when you have at least a month left of winter, as they take about 2-3 weeks to blossom. And they’re simply beautiful! The full blooms in these photos above are actually of the bulbs taken at the Cleveland Botanical Garden’s greenhouse last year. The planting in the glass vase was done at my mom’s house in Ohio and I didn’t actually get to see the full bloom since I was in Chicago, but the photos she sent were strikingly similar. At the Botanical Garden they actually planted the bulbs in dirt, which is another option.


Paperwhites, also known as narcissus papyraceus, are some of the most common bulbs to force indoors. Their fragrant flowers emerge quickly after forcing and they’re easy to care for. Typically I just buy the bulbs (which are very inexpensive and can be found at most garden centers and nurseries), but last year I was given this paperwhite kit as a gift, which had everything needed to get started and the bulbs could be planted right in the bamboo container it came in- very eco-friendly.

Paperwhite Giftbox

The dirt, the bulbs and the cedar chips to place in the bottom of the container were all included.

Paperwhite gift box kit

You could easily do all of this yourself by simply buying the bulbs, and I found these instructions to be helpful no matter what type of container you use.

Paperwhite forcing instructions

I never used wood or cedar chips before at the bottom of my paperwhite container, but since they came with the box, I used them. They help absorb excess water, which prevents root rot. cedar chips

Then you add a lightweight soil like potting soil rich in nutrients.

soil for paperwhites

Next, you have to place the bulbs int he soil, almost all the way down with the emerging plant facing upwards- don’ t they look like onions?

paperwhite bulbs

Take a snapshot of their growth and you’ll realize these seem to change and grow almost every day.

paperwhites emerging

They grow straight upwards pretty fast but don’t actually smell until the flowers emerge. You can see the outline of the flowers at the tips of some of the greenery in the photo below. At this point they are tame and stand erect, but once the blooms come, the green stems become a little loose and tend to fall. This is when you may want to use some twine to hold them together or it can be a bit annoying.

paper whites growing in bamboo container

The fragrance is amazing and you’ll be so happy you invested just a little time to get these guys growing. If you save your bulbs, you can actually get them to grow again in two-three years time but you must take care of them immediately after their usage. There’s more information about how to do that here, along with a photo of how they look when they bloom.

Have you ever forced these or other types of bulbs in the winter time? If not, will you try it some time?



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  1. MashAllah what a great way to bring some life into the house during winter. I would love to do something like this but have a terrible track record with houseplants. Succulents are the only ones that survive around here. This is such a great idea for a gift for a greenthumb, though. Thanks for sharing!

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