Paperwhite Planting Guide

Fresh, homegrown flowers in the dead of winter? You bet! Paperwhite narcissus, or simply paperwhites and their relatives are hugely popular because the fresh, fragrant blooms they deliver in winter, when outdoor gardening isn’t an option for many of us. And they’re easy to grow. Fun. Fabulously scented. And are bright mood lifters for the indoor months. Choose pure white or select a variety with gold accents.

Paperwhite bulbs are sold in a variety of sizes. Size matters, assuming you want lots of buds and blossoms. We ship the big bulbs, like the bottom pair on the photo at left.

Paperwhites grow best in warm temperatures and in full sun. Cool room temperatures (<72 degrees) will slow sprouting and growth.

Planting Outdoors

If you live in a part of the country where the ground doesn’t freeze (Z 8-10), these bulbs can be planted outdoors. As members of the narcissus family, these plants can be treated like other daffodils for garden use. Full directions are here: Daffodil Planting Guide

Planting Indoors

These tazetta narcissus bulbs can be planted in pots in fall or early winter, for fresh flowers just 3-6 weeks later. The majority of cultivars - Ziva, Nir, Inbal, Ariel, Winter Sun and Chinese Sacred Lilies - need no chilling. These are the easiest and a great place for novices to start.

Plant your bulbs upon receipt. If you need to store the bulbs for a few weeks, find a warm, dry, darkish place like on the top of your refrigerator. Never store them inside the refrigerator. The gases given off by ripening fruits and vegetables can stunt or kill the sprouts inside the bulbs.

How to Plant Paperwhite Bulbs

Paperwhites can be planted in pebbles, marbles, tumbled beach glass or a standard potting mix. You're just providing a substrate for the bulbs to root into. (Ariel performs best when grown in soil; the other cultivars are happy with any of these options.)

For plantiong in pebbles:  Start with a container that has 4" or 5” of root room; some sources suggest 3” but we recommend a little extra depth to ensure that the vigorous roots of these cultivars don’t push the bulbs up and out of the pots. Any pretty watertight bowl or pot will work although there’s an advantage to being able to see through the side to assess water levels. Perhaps this is the perfect opportunity for that decorative bowl in the back of the cabinet to come out and shine! For soil-planted paperwhites, choose a pot that has a drainage hole in the bottom.

Add a 4-5" layer of pebbles and place the bulbs, flat bottoms facing down, on the layer. Snug bulb placement - almost touching - creates a full, lush flower display. Add more pebbles around the sides of the bulbs to stabilize them and add a pebble here and here until there bulbs are about half covered and feel secure. Carefully add water, so the waterline sits about ¼” below the base of the bulbs. (Peek down through the pebbles if you can’t see through the container sides.) The roots will seek out the water and grow into it, pulling moisture into the bulb. Do not to let the bulb base sit in the water as this encourages bulb rot. 

If you are planting in soil: Start with at least a 4" base of potting soil below the bulb bottoms and add enough soil to cover the bulbs up to their necks. Leave the bulb tips protruding from the soil. For soil-planted bulbs, place your pot in the sink and give it a gentle soaking to settle the soil around the bulbs. 

Water your bulbs as needed to 1) keep the water level at its original mark, or 2) to keep the soil lightly moist, depending on your potting medium. No fertilizer is necessary.

Stems, foliage, buds and scented blooms develop quickly. No need to wait forever for these beauties!

For forcing Avalanche and Erlicheer, encourage strong root development by planting the bulbs and tucking your pots in a place with cool temperatures (55-60 degrees) and darkness for about 3 weeks. This allows all the focus to be on creating a strong root network before sprouts begin to grow. After the roots have developed, move your potted bulbs to a warmer room (65 degrees) and place on a sunny windowsill.

Standing Tall

Forced paperwhites often grow too tall indoors due to insufficient sunlight. To help the flowering bulbs stand tall, you can use bamboo stakes with interwoven twine make a light support framework. Or you can try the #3 suggestion in the Tips, below.


Paperwhite bulbs don’t reblooms well after being forced. Add them to the compost pile or toss out.

Insider Tips

  1. It’s fun to try several types of paperwhites to see which grows best on your windowsills and which fragrances most delight your nose. Noses vary.
  2. The non-white paperwhites (the “sisters”) tend to produce fewer and/or smaller flowers. But the fragrance on some of these is so delicious, it’s a perfectly acceptable tradeoff for many.
  3. Cornell University developed a “pickling” method for reducing paperwhite height by about a third, while keeping the flowers just as large, numerous and long lasting. Here’s the trick: How to Grow Flop-Free Paperwhites. We’ve tried this – it works!
  4. When choosing a container for planting paperwhites, allow at least 4-5" of root room. Vigorous paperwhite bulbs, like the ones offered here, produce a big tuft of roots that can push the bulbs right out of shallow containers. It's kind of funny when you see it for the first time, and then, you think " Oops, now what?"
  5. Note that tazettas like Avalanche, Erlicheer, Cheerfulness and Grand Primo are good indoor forcers, excellent additions to classic white paperwhites. These varieties do best when grown in soil and allowed to develop roots before top growth. Insufficient rooting in time will result in plants that produce lots of greenery and few flowers. Pot up in containers a bit deeper than those used for classic paperwhites, water once and place in a cool dark spot for 3-4 weeks. Then bring out into the light, place in a cool room (65 degrees) and let them do their thing.
  6. With paperwhites, size really matters. Trust your eyes and instincts on this: See Size for Yourself
shop paperwhites
shop paperwhites

Success Snapshot

Light: Full to ¾ day sun

Soil: Average or plant in pebbles

Depth: Cover bulb halfway with soil (or forced in water, with water level just touching the bulb bottom)

Water: Average moisture

Uses: Outdoor in warm regions, potted for indoor flowers

Tip: Plant indoors in several waves for flowers all winter

GUIDE: Paperwhite Planting Guide

They Start Out Looking Like This: