Bring on Spring
How to Coax Paperwhite Bulbs to Bloom Indoors

Bulbs that are adapted to cold winter climates, such as tulips, need to experience cold temperatures before they bloom. (Many gardeners simulate winter by "chilling" bulbs for two or more months before bringing them indoors to bloom.) But bulbs that hail from warmer climates can "come to life" more easily. Paperwhites are the easiest to grow in the classroom. Try coaxing some to bloom while waiting for your tulips to get through winter.

Note: You can find paperwhites at nurseries and stores with garden centers. They typically cost from 50 cents to 1 dollar each. It never hurts to ask for a donation for an educational project!

Instructions For Forcing Paperwhites

  1. tulip_force5
    Find a dish or bowl (without holes) that's at least 2 1/2 inches deep. (Plastic containers work well; avoid unglazed clay pots because the water will seep through.) Add pebbles or marbles to within 1 inch of the rim.
  2. Add water to just below the top of the pebbles.
  3. Set the bulbs on top, pointed end up; add enough pebbles to cover a third of each bulb.
  4. Maintain that water level and leave the bulbs in a cool location with little or no light for a week or two.
  5. Tug gently on the plants from time to time to test for root development. Once they feel rooted, move them to a well-lit spot out of direct sunlight.
  6. The bulbs should flower in 3 to 5 weeks.

Dig Deeper

  • Invite students to use their bulb journals to document changes in their indoor bulbs. They should also graph the plants' growth rates.
  • Challenge the class to brainstorm all the possible variables that might affect a paperwhite's rate of growth (e.g., sun exposure, amount of water). Have students think through how they might design an experiment to test each variable on the list