Fall is the time when one starts to plant up paperwhites and amaryllis for the upcoming holidays. They both can be grown in water or potting soil. Be sure to pay attention to length of time to bloom if you want them in flower at a particular time.
Paperwhites in water: This is the method we usually use at McArdle's when we pot up paperwhites. You need a water tight container (metal, plastic, glass, ceramic, etc.) that is at least 3 to 4 inches deep, and some gravel. Add enough gravel in the container so that when the bulb is placed in it the bulbs' nose (the tip) is level with the top rim of the pot. A small amount of charcoal (a tablespoon or two) applied to the bottom, prior to adding the gravel, with help with any odor from the water. Put the bulbs in and back fill with more gravel until the only the nose shows. The paperwhites can be placed touching each other to give a full look when in bloom. Be careful to leave enough room below in the container for root growth since the gravel serves as an anchor for the roots . The bulbs will put out a lot of roots, and failure to leave room will result in the bulbs "heaving" themselves right out of the pot. Finally, add water until the it just touches the bottom of the nose of the bulb. Check every few days to add water if needed.
Paperwhites have a funny characteristic. When planted early in the fall they take about five and a half weeks to bloom. As the season progresses, this time frame shortens. By late fall they take about two and a half to three weeks to bloom from potting time.
Paperwhites in soil: When using potting soil you will need a container that has drainage. Simply add soil to the pot and place the bulbs so their noses will be just below the surface of the soil. Water thoroughly after planting, and then just keep the soil slightly damp.
Paperwhites grow equally well in either water or soil. It's your choice!
Amaryllis in water: Select a "tallish" glass vase with a wide opening on the top so that the amaryllis bulb can sit in it securely. Add water to vase so that the water just touches the bottom of the bulb and maintain that level. Do not add water any higher than that level as this excess water will rot the bulb. We do not have much faith in this method as bulbs develop poorly and tend to rot. Potting soil is the preferred way to go.
Amaryllis in soil: Choose a container with drainage. Amaryllis do well in clay pots. They also tend not to tip over as easily in them because the heavy clay helps keep them steady as they grow. Start to fill your container with a light weight potting soil. Place the amaryllis in the pot so that the top 25% of the bulb is not covered by soil. This will prevent the collar (the top portion around the nose) from rotting due to moisture sitting on it. Water thoroughly after planting, and then water as the soil starts to dry. Turn the pot every few days so the flower stem will grow straight.
Amaryllis take anywhere from to six to eight weeks to bloom after planting. Sometimes even longer! The process can be speeded up somewhat by introducing some bottom heat to the bulb, such as placing the pot on a radiator.