Paperwhites are part of the narcissus family which makes them relatives of the daffodil. They are indigenous to the Mediterranean region and actually are a perennial flower there. As you might expect by the name, the flowers are white but they are also strongly fragrant. They are unique, however, in that it is a bulb that does not require a cold period to bring about its blooming period. This makes them an ideal candidate for forcing indoors and if you plant them right now you may have blooms for Christmas!
Paperwhites are often sold in a kit which includes everything you need to grow these plants. You can get these kits from Blooming Secrets and they are convenient as they include the container, planting materials and of course the bulb. That being said paperwhites are so easy to work with that you can also buy the bulbs themselves and plant them in virtually any container and they will grow. They are also not fussy about the planting medium that you use either. Moist peat moss is frequency used or they often are planted in glass container with pebbles substituting for the soil.
Regardless of whether you choose a kit or decide to make your own containers paperwhites need to be kept moist. The tips of the bulb should be above the water but the rest of the bulb can actually be underwater which is how they are often grown when pebbles are used rather than peat moss. This means you will want to check them daily to be sure they don’t dry out due to the less than humid conditions that are found in our homes during the winter months. They should be kept out of direct sunlight which will help extend their bloom time and prefer cooler temperatures in the 50’s or 60’s to look their best.
When planting the bulbs you can plant them close together but make sure they aren’t touching one another. Depending upon the size of your container you should plant 6 to 12 bulbs to get a nice clump of flowers. If you are able to do so you can plant the bulbs in different containers every 2 weeks and by doing this you can have blooms throughout the winter. When one container is finishing its blooming cycle another one can then take over! After planting the bulbs will root and the tips will look very similar to that of a daffodil when it emerges in the spring. After the tips appear the plant will usually bloom within 3 to 4 weeks.
Having grown paperwhites myself I have found that the green stems do need some support once the blooms appear. Without the support the stem will bend over due to the weight of the flowers. If the container will allow you to do so you can insert some small supporting stakes at the time you plant the bulb and then as the stems grow you can put a little string around the stakes to support the stems. This also allows the stems to cover the supports a little and allow the supports to almost blend in with the stems. I usually use fishing line rather than the string as it is virtually transparent unless you are right next to the container. These last two suggestions are more for aesthetics and are not required to get the bulbs to bloom. The one unfortunate outcome of the forcing process is that these bulbs can only bloom once and after they finish blooming they should be discarded. I think, however, the opportunity to have flowers throughout the winter makes this an acceptable tradeoff.