Can you grow paperwhites in a jar for Christmas? Here's what the experts say

Discover how to grow paperwhites in a jar and you can fill your house with these heavenly scented blooms for weeks

paperwhite bulbs growing in glass jars
(Image credit: Gina Kelly/Alamy Stock-Photo)

Learning how to grow paperwhites in a jar is a fun activity to try in the run up to Christmas. They are absolute favorites around Christmas time when their highly scented flowers fill the house with perfume. They are also undemanding and incredibly easy to grow, only needing a little bit of light and water.

While paperwhite bulbs can be planted in soil, more often they're grown in glass vases or jars with an attractive layer of pebbles to anchor them in place. This means the bulbs and roots are on display as well as the flowers, which creates a lovely botanically inspired look.

By learning how to force bulbs indoors you can enjoy a mass of these beautifully scented blooms indoors in time for Christmas. Repeat every two weeks and you can carry on with them right through spring too.

paperwhite narcissus growing in a glass vase

Light and water is the magic formula for growing paperwhite bulbs. Soil is not necessary

(Image credit: Grace Clementine/Getty Images)

How to grow paperwhites in a jar in 4 simple steps

Paperwhites are one of the best spring bulbs you can choose and are typically available from fall through late winter. The bulbs can only be stored for a couple of months before they begin to deteriorate. So make sure you don't buy your bulbs too far in advance of your bulb planting session. 

'Our favorite winter bulb is the paperwhite,' say Henrietta Courtauld and Bridget Elworth aka The Land Gardeners (opens in new tab). 'We bulk buy these in early fall so that we have about 500 bulbs in storage. This sounds like a lot but actually as you’ll use them throughout the whole winter season it’s a cost-effective way of giving you a steady supply of beautiful flowers throughout winter. 

'What we love about paperwhites is that you can plant them in soil, but you can also just pop the bulbs directly into a glass with a little water and they will flower about three weeks later.'

With our easy step by step on how to grow paperwhites in a jar, you'll be able to add them to your Christmas plant collection and fill your home with seasonal scent for weeks on end.

1. Choose the best glass vase or jar

woman holding paperwhite narcissus in a glass vase

(Image credit: Cyndi Monaghan/Getty Images)

First decide on a tall glass or vase for your paperwhite display. Glass hurricane vases like this one from Amazon (opens in new tab) work particularly well, as they will help to support the stems of the paperwhites as they grow. Paperwhites can become top heavy so the sides of a large hurricane vase will help to balance them.

Add a layer of colored glass or natural pebbles (we love these polished pebbles from Amazon (opens in new tab)), shingle or whatever else you think looks nice in the vase and helps to create the look you want. Aim for a 2in (5cm) layer for your bulbs to sit on.

Alternatively dispense with the gravel and choose a smaller bottle-neck style vase to grow bulbs individually. These work well as they keep bulbs clear of the water while allowing the roots to grow down into it. The look of the roots suspended in water is eyecatching too. Group a collection of individual paperwhites together to work the bud vase trend.

2. Add your paperwhite bulbs to the container

paperwhite narcissus bulbs

(Image credit: Arina Habich/Alamy Stock Photo)

When picking out paperwhite bulbs at the garden center choose ones that are as symmetrical as possible as they are less likely to lean to one side and wobble over once the shoots began to grow in the container.

Place the paperwhite bulbs on top of the pebbles, pointed side up and roots facing down, just as you would when planting bulbs such as tulips and daffodils. Pack in as many as you want to create a full display as it doesn't matter if they're overcrowded. You can fill in with more pebbles around the bulbs to help anchor them and stop them upending.

Put any spare paperwhite bulbs in a cool dark place then once your first display has finished you can replant the vase with a second lot of bulbs and keep going right through spring. 

3. Submerge only the roots in water

paperwhite bulbs growing in a glass jar

(Image credit: Gina Kelly/Alamy Stock Photo)

Add water to the vase or jar to just below the point where the bulbs are sitting. A common bulb planting mistake when growing paperwhites in this way is to sit the base of the bulbs in the water, which can lead to them rotting. Instead, aim for just the roots to be submerged.

Over the next few weeks keep an eye on the water level and top up as necessary. Some evaporation will occur but even so you should only need to add the odd trickle of water to the container.

You can also grow hyacinth bulbs in water like this, as well as poinsettias.

4. Choose the right position for your paperwhite bulbs

paperwhite flowers

(Image credit: Terence Miles/Getty Images)

Transfer your vase to a cool location as your paperwhite bulbs should be kept at around 65˚F (18˚C). The bulbs don't need lots of light at this point. However, unlike some other bulbs, you don't need to keep your paperwhite bulbs in darkness. 

Once you see roots growing strongly and the top of the paperwhites shooting it's time to move your vase to a sunny windowsill. The more light they receive as they grow the less likely they will be to 'stretch' and become leggy. 

The bulbs will typically bloom around four weeks after you plant them. Timing will be dependent on the amount of sunlight they receive. Once the flowers appear, the blooms will last longer if you move the container out of direct sunlight to a cool spot. Paperwhites will bloom for a week or two before fading. 

Once the flowers have faded remove them and put on the compost pile as they will not bloom again indoors. In mild climates, they sometimes can be planted in flower beds where they may bloom again.

Replant your vase with the spare bulbs and that way you can have a continuous show of fragrant bulbs blooming in your home throughout the holidays. Grow them alongside other seasonal favorites such as a Christmas cactus or a kalanchoe for a truly festive display. 

paperwhite flowers

Fill your house with delicious scent

(Image credit: Clare Gainey/Alamy Stock Photo)
Sarah Wilson
Content Editor

Lifestyle journalist Sarah Wilson has been writing about gardens since 2015. She's written for Gardeningetc.com, Livingetc, Homes & Gardens, Easy Gardens and Modern Gardens magazines. Having studied introductory garden and landscape design, she is currently putting the skills learned to good use in her own space where the dream is establishing a cutting garden.