Amaryllis and Paperwhites: Forcing them for Winter Color

By now, if you were going to plant spring-flowering bulbs in your garden, you have completed that task. But to brighten up the indoors throughout our long winters, many of us like to “force” colorful (red, pink or white) amaryllis and fragrant paperwhite narcissus bulbs.

Amaryllis and paperwhites will not survive outdoors in our climate. Amaryllis are native to the Andes mountains of South America and paperwhite narcissus to the Mediterranean area. Because these non-hardy bulbs are native to warmer climates, they do not need a cool, dormant period before being forced. Both are easy to grow inside and just require a few easy steps.

Amaryllis will take about 8 weeks to bloom after planting.

  • Plant in a 6” or larger pot in sterile potting soil.
  • Make sure the pot provides adequate drainage.
  • 1/3 of the bulb should be sticking out of the soil.
  • Make sure your amaryllis gets adequate water.
  • Use a water-soluble house plant fertilizer every two weeks or use house plant slow release fertilizer spikes.

Paperwhites can be forced in water or planted in soil. They will bloom in 4 to 6 weeks.

In Water:

  • Place small pebbles 2” deep in any size vase.
  • Stand up the paperwhite bulbs close together on top of the pebbles.
  • Fill water to just below the base of the bulbs. Make sure water isn’t touching the bulbs–the roots will start to grow down into the water.
  • You can skip the pebbles and use a small vase that holds just one bulb upright.

In Soil:

  • Fill your container ¾ full with moistened soil mix.
  • Set the bulbs on top of the soil close together.
  • Cover the bulbs with soil leaving the tips exposed.
  • Keep soil moist.
  • After planting paperwhites, keep the pot of bulbs in a cool place (50 to 60 degrees) with indirect light until they start to grow. This will help keep the stems from growing too tall and floppy.
  • When they start to grow, move them to a sunny window

Both amaryllis and paperwhites will probably need some sort of support or staking—the stems and leaves tend to flop over. You can tie the floppy flower stems to bamboo stakes with twine. Paperwhites will not rebloom after being forced so dispose of them after the flowers are spent. Amaryllis can be made to rebloom but multiple steps, including planting them outside in the summer, are required.

Force these bulbs and turn your home into a flower garden for the long winter months.