Garden Therapy Notes

 A Collection of Gardening Information and Inspiration



December 5, 2012

Planting Paperwhite Bulbs

Easy Planting Project That Produces Flowers Within 3-6 Weeks

Flowering Paperwhite


I highly recommend adding this project to a Horticultural Therapy (HT) program for groups or one to one. The purpose is to plant paperwhite bulbs and observe the bulbs as they grow and flower over 3-6 weeks.

Filling pots with soil, planting and watering gives participants the opportunity to work on their gross/fine motor skills and eye/hand coordination. Learning about paperwhite bulbs and how to grow them promotes cognitive stimulation. Participants socially interact with their peers while they help each other with tasks and questions. The plant material and soil provides sensory stimulation for an overall sense of wellbeing. 

After the bulbs are planted, participants are encouraged to observe the bulbs through out the week and at HT sessions. This involvement promotes curiosity, fascination and hope; all positive feelings that can help enhance a persons quality of life. A big sense of accomplishment is a achieved when the paperwhite bulbs flower.

Facts About Paperwhite Bulbs:

  • Botanical name is Narcissus papyraceus 
  • Common name is Paperwhite 
  • They produce clusters of fragrant small white flowers  
  • The fragrance of these flowers has been described as musky or spicy. I personally enjoy the smell but some people find them too strong or unpleasant. It's always interesting to see the participants reaction to the smell of the flowers.
  • There is a non-fragrant variety called Narcissus papyraceus 'inbal'. I prefer to use this variety if it is available because some people have sensitivities to fragrances. 
  • They are a perennial bulbous plant that can be planted outside. I have never seen it flower a second time outside in the garden.
  • Doesn't require a cold treatment or chilling period to flower. This makes it very easy to force into bloom as a houseplant. 
  • Usually available for purchase in November and December 
  • Can be purchased in bulk quantities as loose bulbs or in kits with soil and container included. I prefer buying them loose because it is usually cheaper and I already have the other materials.   
  • The bulb will die back after it finishes flowering


  • Paperwhite bulbs (3 per container)
  • 6" pots
  • Saucers
  • Potting soil
  • Watering can
  • Plastic tray

Instructions For Planting Paperwhite Bulbs:

1. Get participants to take a close look at the bulbs

paperwhite bulbs

  • Look at the colour, shape and texture. They look similar to daffodil bulbs. 
  • Look for any new growth. It's amazing that these plants can start growing without soil or water. This is because there is enough moisture and nutrients within the bulb. 
  • Notice the firmness of the bulb. It should not be mushy or hallow. 
  • Find the flat bottom. This is where the roots will develop once they are planted and watered.

2. Loosely fill pots with potting soil 1-2 inches from the top

3. Place bulbs on top of the soil

  • 3 bulbs in a 6" pot or 4 bulbs in 8" pot

paperwhites in a container

4. Add more soil to the container

  • Firmly press soil around the bulbs
  • Do not completly cover the bulbs
  • Place the containers on saucers and water until it drains through the bottom holes
  • Keep soil moist; don't allow the soil to dry

Planted Paperwhite Bulbs

5. Place near indirect light to extend the length of the blooms. The more direct sunlight they receive the faster they grow and flower. The leaves will turn brown and die back when the plant finishes flowering. Bulbs can then be discarded, or saved and planted outside.

sprouted paperwhite bulbs

Happy Growing,

Trina Alix

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