Paperwhite Planting Guide

Fresh, homegrown flowers in the dead of winter? You bet! 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. Fun. And bright mood lifters for the indoor months.

Paperwhite bulbs are sold in a variety of sizes. Size matters. We ship the big ones, like the bottom pair on the photo at left.

Paperwhite Planting Information

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 fall or early winter, for fresh flowers just 3-6 weeks later.

Plant your bulbs upon receipt. If you need to store the bulbs for a few weeks until you can get to them, a warm, dry, darkish place like on the top of your refrigerator is ideal. 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 plain potting soil. 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.)

Start with a container that’s 4 or 5” deep; some sources suggest 3” but we recommend a little extra depth to ensure that the vigorous roots don’t push the bulbs out. 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. This could be 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 2-3” layer of pebbles and place the bulbs, flat bottoms facing down, on the layer. Tight, almost touching, bulb placement delivers a full, attractive flower display. Add more pebbles around the sides of the bulbs to stabilize them and fill in until the bulbs are about half covered. If you are planting in soil, start with a 2-3" base layer and add enough soil to cover the bulbs up to their necks. Just leave the bulb tips protruding from the soil.

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. Try not to let the bulb base sit in the water as that encourages bulb rot. For soil-planted bulbs, place your pot in the sink and give it a gentle soaking to settle the soil around the bulbs.

For the best root development, tuck your potted bulbs in a cool (55-65 degrees), dark place 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, bring your potted bulbs out and place on a sunny windowsill.

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.

Standing Tall

Forced paperwhites often grow too tall and need some help to stand tall. Bamboo stakes with interwoven twine make a light support framework. Or you can try the #3 suggestion in the Tips, below.

Post-Flowering

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.
  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 paperhwhites, allow at least 3.5-4" 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?"
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Success Snapshot

Light: Full to ¾ day sun

Soil: Average or plant in pebbles

Depth: Cover bulb halfway

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: