Gardening with Kids: A Paperwhite Project

  • Difficulty Rating: Beginner


Paperwhite bulb

Kids are natural gardeners. They’re curious, nimble-fingered, trusting, enthusiastic gardening companions, and they don’t mind getting their knees muddy.

I love gardening with kids, and I’m always dreaming up planting projects that might interest Will and Stella, the budding gardeners next door. They — and their parents — are kind enough to indulge me.


Kids with flower bulbs


After a successful experiment raising summer annuals from seed, Will, Stella and I are growing paperwhite narcissus in clear glass pots. Paperwhites are spring-flowering bulbs (they are a kind of daffodil) and particularly easy to bring into bloom in a pot in the house. They don’t need a cold period (simulating winter), and they don’t even need soil. In three or four weeks, a single bulb produces several flower stalks, each with about a dozen fragrant, sparkling white flowers. This is the kind of fast action kids appreciate.


Bulbs in container


Our project is not a contest, but I thought we might all learn something if we took this on together, so I bought nine bulbs and three identical planters. We each planted three bulbs in pebbles, starting with a couple of inches of pebbles at the bottom of the container (it is important to rinse the pebbles in a bucket before planting). The layer of pebbles keeps the bulbs out of the water, so they don’t rot, and gives the roots room to grow.


Cutting paper by bulbs


Set the bulbs on top of the layer of pebbles, and then add more pebbles, enough to just cover the shoulders of the bulbs. I demonstrated the technique, and then Will and Stella planted their own pots. I had some construction paper so we could each put our name on our pot, decorating the name-cards with a frilly Fiskars paper punch. We also made proper plant labels, with the name of the flower and the date. Stella, who is 5, had no trouble writing “PAPERWHITE” on a wooden label. Will, an instinctive young naturalist in second grade, included details: “Type: Paperwhite,” he wrote. “By Will. We planted it on Nov. 18, 2012.”


Planted and labeled bulbs


Watering can be a little tricky. It is important not to overwater your bulbs. Clear glass pots allow you to see the water level, as well as to watch as the roots develop. We carefully added water to just below the bottom of each bulb. Stella, fearing that the game was now over, asked if they could take the pots home with them. I reassured her that they could, and she went happily off to find a place for her pot in her bedroom. Will put his in his mom’s kitchen. My pot is on my kitchen counter.


Kids with bulbs


After 10 days, I could see roots just beginning to develop in my pot, and when I saw Will, I asked how his paperwhites were doing. He didn’t seem quite sure, so he came over and I showed him the little white roots on my bulbs. “Got it,” Will said, and went home to check his own pot. According to the reports I get from next door, flower buds are showing in all three pots, and we’ll have flowers in another week. I feel like I’ve grown a couple of gardeners, too.


Paper Whites


Want to hear more about Marty’s process? Watch her slideshow here !