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paperwhite bulbs

Planting Paperwhites

Winter flowers for your home

Thanksgiving in less than three weeks away, and all the cut flowers in my garden have given up the ghost. It’s time to start potting up paperwhite bulbs so I will have some flowers in the house at Christmas time. These winter-blooming narcissus do not need a cold period to bloom, so they are easy to force for winter bloom. Some people cannot abide the scent of these flowers, crinkling their noses at the thought of them. But for those that love them they are deliciously fragrant, and one or two pots in a room is plenty. 

‘Ziva’ is a reliable white, multiflowered strain that has a strong, sweet fragrance and grows 16-18” tall. Planted now, Ziva should take about 6 weeks from planting to bloom. ‘Galilee’ is also white, but with a lighter, musky scent on slightly shorted stems. It takes about the same time to bloom and often has several stems per bulb. You can plant a couple pots of these every few weeks to have blooms all winter long.

When you buy paperwhites, look for firm, shiny-looking bulbs.  Decide how many you want in order to have three or four plantings.  You can store the unused bulbs in a brown paper bag in a cool location. They may sprout on their own. That’s ok, but when they are ready to plant, handle them carefully so you don’t break the sprout.

Paperwhites don’t need soil to grow – they will do just fine in gravel or one of those ‘bulb sprouting’ vases that is very narrow at the top.  I find these to be problematic, because these vases are vary top-heavy when the bulb gets tall, and it is easy to knock it over.  I prefer to use a decorative pot with potting soil. The soil gives the paperwhites a sturdy base and is a little more forgiving if I forget to water.  The bare potting soil is not that attractive, so I like to decorate it a little by spreading some white rocks, marbles, sheet moss, or even sowing the soil with wheat grass seed about a week before they begin to bloom. The wheat grass makes a mini-meadow effect. Tiny pine cones can give it an interesting look, too.

When you are ready to plant, fill your 5-6” pot about one-third full of moistened potting soil.  Place the bulbs, sprout side up, putting the bulbs next to each other so they are almost touching.  If they are sprouted, point the curved sprout towards the center of the pot.  This will help them stay upright when they get taller. Cover the bulbs and fill the pot up to the top with moist potting soil, and water carefully.  Keep your bulbs in a bright, warm spot and the green shoots should appear within a couple weeks, with bud stems appearing shortly, and flowers showing about one to two weeks after that.

Paperwhites are quite forgiving if they are planted differently that I have described here.  Some plant bulbs up at the top of the pot, and leave part of the bulb showing. That’s perfectly ok, but like in the vase mentioned above, these become very top heavy.

Paperwhites are a one-shot wonder.  They are not hardy and can’t be planted outside like other narcissi. When they are done blooming, toss them in the compost pile. They will decompose nicely with poinsettias.



I didn't realize they didn't need months in a hard cold place--thanks for the information, Hilary!


Well written and informative. I just potted 5, terrarium style--a bulb, a tiny fern, some ground moss, some wheat grass, an interesing rock from the driveway--they are really fun--and  am selling them at our chrurch fair on the 17th. They are housed currently in my cellar (hoping the mice stay away)--I was wondering what to write on the instructions--and this post helped. "Keep moist, not wet, to the touch, store in a cool dark place and bring put two weeks before Christmas" correct??