The following water-only tips can be applied both to paperwhites and amaryllises. Check the amaryllis instructions for growing both with soil.
Go firm and plump.
Paperwhite bulbs should feel firm and heavy in the hand, with no bruises or nicks. The bigger the bulb, the better—they produce more stems and flowers. Don't worry if the papery outer tunic is torn or missing. For flowering prior to New Year's, choose "Ziva" paperwhites, which bloom earlier than other varieties.
No need to spend money on expensive vases:
Choose any watertight container at least 4 to 5 inches deep, such as fruit or salad bowls, planters, even Ziploc® Brand Containers
that can be hidden inside pretty baskets or glazed pottery. Transparent containers allow you to clearly view the fascinating root growth.
Give good anchor.
If the container isn't fluted at the top (enough to wedge the bulb in comfortably) or is not designed to keep water away from the bulb, you'll need to anchor the bulb(s). Be creative in choosing the medium: consider river-washed rocks, marbles, glass beads, pebbled gravel, or marble chips. Place a layer several inches deep in the container. The anchor will also keep the container from becoming too top-heavy when the bulbs start blooming.
Pack 'em in.
The more bulbs in one pot, the merrier; they'll hold one another up and provide maximum bloom. Pack in firmly with the pointy ends up. Then hand-place a second layer of your anchor material around and in between the bulbs. Leave the bulb shoulders (where the tops narrow) and necks exposed.
Just add water.
Fill the container with just enough water so it makes contact with the roots, not the bulb. Dutch farmers have a saying about the water level: keep it close enough so the bulb can "sniff" the water, but not touch it. (If water makes contact with the bulb, it will rot!) Replenish the water every 2 to 3 days to maintain this level throughout the growing period.
Get out of the way.
Once rooting begins, stand back! Roots can be powerful enough to propel the bulb up out of the container if not anchored solidly at the shoulders. So pack them in tightly.
Set the planted container in a cool spot with bright light. The brighter the light, the less leggy the plant will be ("legginess" is a result of stretching for the light). Early in the winter, expect blooms in 4 to 6 weeks. Later in the season, the bulbs will bloom faster—in as little as 2 to 3 weeks.
Tame those paperwhites.
It's the law of the jungle: Right before paperwhites bloom, they often become unruly on their long stalks. To tame them, tie them together with raffia, ribbon, garland, or even grapevines approximately two-thirds of the way up the stems.
No second chances.
After one bloom, paperwhites are usually done for. Unless you live in USDA Zones 9 to 11
(where you can try planting them outdoors), just toss them away when spent. Or, cut them immediately after blooming and give a gift of cut flowers in an edgy vase
. Carefully rinse and wash all containers and accessories for reuse.