Start Now for Holiday Blooms
Last year I planted Paperwhite daffodil bulbs (Narcissus papyraceus) in my mother’s yard in the Houston area, as well as in a container for enjoyment on the patio. Paperwhites are highly fragrant blooms, similar to a gardenia, and rise to approximately 12-18 inches in height, so a great joy to have indoors or out in the garden.
Even though Paperwhite bulbs are inexpensive and easy to find, I had nearly forgotten I had stored a few bulbs to see how well they would survive for another container planting.
I kept the bulbs in a bed of peat moss and vermiculite, and was happy to see that five of the seven bulbs were still firm, a sign of health. Since now is a good time to think about blooms during the holidays, I decided to put together a container. Paperwhites are quick blooming, only requiring four to five weeks when grown indoors.
Differences in Planting
The two key differences in planting Paperwhite daffodil bulbs in a container instead of in the ground are the spacing and timing. In the ground Paperwhite bulbs are planted 4-6 inches deep and 4-6 inches apart and normally planted in late winter for spring blooms. In the Austin area, Paperwhites can be planted in the ground as early as late fall since we have warmer winters. Focusing on container planting, you can ignore any rules about spacing and depth (for the most part). As for timing, a good rule of thumb is you can force blooms indoors anytime between November and March.
- Potting soil
- One or more containers wide enough to fit the desired number of bulbs
Aesthetically, an odd number of bulbs is best. The potting soil should be rich and well-draining, so look for potting soil recommended for indoor containers. Your container needs to be deep enough to allow for 2-3 inches of potting soil below the bulb. Place the bulbs on top of the soil with the pointed side up, so that the tips of the bulbs appear just above the top of the container. For spacing, place the bulbs one inch apart, or touching if you want a fuller look. Fill in with the potting soil ensuring the tips remain slightly exposed. Water the bulbs in and put in a bright sunny location. Keep the bulbs slightly moist, but not wet, so as not to allow the bulbs to rot. In 4 to 5 weeks, your blooms should be ready for the show!
Alternate Potting Medium
If you prefer a unique look, use pebbles or glass stones as the growing medium. Simply substitute the soil and use 2-3 inches of pebbles in the bottom of a tall glass container. A tall container is best to provide support for the stems, and to avoid flopping blooms. Alternatively, add a support mechanism (stick, decorative stake) in the pebbles as support.
Next, place each bulb an inch apart sitting on top of the pebbles. Ensure the pointed side of the bulb is upward facing. Once all bulbs are placed, add water until the pebbles are barely covered, so that the bulb is not sitting in the water. Within a couple of weeks, you will see the roots emerge and begin growing within the pebbles. Check the water at least weekly and replenish so that the stones remain covered, but the water does not touch the bulb. By week 4 or 5, your blooms will be ready to be a focal point in any holiday decoration or table.
Naturalizing Paperwhite Daffodil Bulbs
Best suited for zones 9-10, Austin is a great location to naturalize Paperwhites, as they do not have required chilling hours, as do other daffodil bulbs. Allow the foliage to yellow and die back before cutting, as this enables the foliage to nourish the bulb for next year’s blooms. Since the foliage goes fully dormant during the summer, no additional watering is necessary and if located in an area with excessive water, the bulb can rot. If in a container, refrain from watering after the bulb has gone dormant and put it away in a cool dark place (such as a garage) until next spring. Or, if you’ve enjoyed the blooms for the holidays, you still have time to plant them in the ground in late winter for future shows in your garden!
Yvonne was a 35+year veteran in the computer and information technology industry when she retired and moved from Houston to the Austin area. In 2018, Yvonne certified as a Travis County Texas Master Gardener to follow her passion for gardening and volunteering within the community. She has spent 20+ years enjoying gardening and working with bulbs and perennials. She now tackles the challenges presented by the Austin area wildlife, drought, and limestone soil.