Paperwhites and Late Tulip Planting

tulipsQuestion: I discovered a bag of tulip bulbs that I forgot to plant. Is it too late? G.O.

Answer: Your tulip bulbs can be planted as long as the ground is not frozen to the point that you can’t dig a hole. Ideally, spring bulbs should be in the ground before late fall so the roots have more time to grow, but your tulips will still come up and bloom beautifully even if you plant them in the now.

Question: A friend gave me a bag of paperwhite bulbs for a gift. The bag didn’t have growing instructions so I’m not sure what I should do. What do you suggest? P.T.

Answer: Paperwhites are a type of narcissus. They are easy to force into bloom indoors because they do not require a cold period like tulips, daffodils and crocus. In fact, paperwhites won’t survive temperatures below 10 degrees Fahrenheit.

You can plant your paperwhite bulbs in potting soil or gravel. If you use potting soil, the pot needs drainage holes. Fill the pot with regular clean potting soil. Plant the bulbs close together in the pot with 1-inch of the pointy end of the bulb sticking out of the soil. Keep the potting soil evenly moist but not soggy.

If you decide to grow your paperwhites in gravel, the container won’t need drainage holes. Almost anything that holds water will work, but the container should be at least 2-inches deep. The container and gravel should weight enough to keep the pot from falling over when the plants are full grown. Fill the container two-thirds deep with pea-sized gravel. Nestle the bulbs into the gravel until they are half covered. Add water to the depth of the bottom of the bulbs. Daily check the water level and add water as needed to keep it near the base of the bulbs. Paperwhites can tolerate sitting in water for short periods of time but avoid submerging the bulbs completely.

Regardless of your growing method put the paperwhites in a warm place where they will receive bright sunlight all day.

In a few days you will see roots growing in the water around the gravel. Shortly afterward leaves will shoot up. Paperwhites bloom four to six weeks after planting. Cool room temperatures, especially at night, will extend their bloom up to three weeks.

Barb Larson is horticulture educator for Kenosha County University of Wisconsin Extension. Barb has a Master’s of Science in horticulture from the UW-Madison. If you have a plant or gardening question, email Larson at  or call her at 262-857-1945.