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Paperwhite (and their cousins) Planting Guide

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Paperwhite

If you're just getting started with gardening, paperwhites are an excellent first project. They are fast, easy, fragrant and beautiful. For outdoors all you need is a sunny site in zones 8-10. Indoors you'll need just a pretty bowl or shallow pot, some pebbles, a few big bulbs and some sunshine. You can do this. Give it a try.

And if you've ever had your paperwhites grow taller than you'd like, there's a simple way to reduce this by about a third. We've tried this and it works!

Pickling Paperwhites for Shorter Plants
Paperwhite Planting Video; Show Me How!



Outdoor Beds
  1. Find a location where the soil drains well. If there are still puddles of water 5-6 hours after a hard rain, scout out another site. Or amend the soil with the addition of organic material to raise the level 2-3 inches to improve the drainage. Peat moss, compost, ground bark or decomposed manure all work well and are widely available.
  2. Site your paperwhite bulbs where they will receive full sun. Paperwhites will grow in light shade but tend to develop stronger stems in brighter light.
  3. Plant your paperwhites where they will receive sun for all, or most, of the day. Dig holes and plant the bulbs with their pointed tops 3-4” below the soil surface. Allow 4 to 5 bulbs per square foot. Plant anytime from September through December. Paperwhites are tough and can be planted in 100 degree or 40 degree soil.
  4. After planting water well, thoroughly soaking the soil to settle it around the bulbs. Most bulbs will begin to grow roots in just a few days, but allow some leeway to respond to individual conditions. Buds and blooms will appear in late winter or early spring, depending on the variety and your climate.
  5. When in bloom, feel free to cut paperwhite flowers for fragrant bouquets. An insider's tip: members of the narcissus family have sap that contains a chemical that causes other flowers to wilt. Avoid mixing paperwhites (or daffodils) in a vase with other flowers.
  6. When this season's blooms are past, your bulbs need to store energy for next year's show. Allow the leaves to photosynthesize (process sunlight to produce food) until they yellow and wither. This is the time to remove the spent foliage. Trimming still-green foliage will reduce the plant's ability to nourish next year's flowers, resulting in fewer, smaller flowers.
  7. Water during the late fall and winter with a water-soluble fertilizer to nourish the bulbs as they develop new roots and top growth. Your bulbs will survive without fertilizer, but providing extra nutrients encourages more flowers, larger blossoms and longer life for your bulbs.
Pots, Barrels, Tubs & Urns
  1. Fill your containers with good quality, well-drained soil. Almost any commercially available potting medium will work fine. Make sure there are adequate drainage holes. While it's fine to force paperwhites in water (see below) if you want your paperwhites to flower more than one season plant them in well drained soil.
  2. Site your containers where they will receive sun for all, or most, of the day.
  3. Plant your bulbs close to each other, with hips about an inch apart, for the most brilliant display. Tuck them down 2-3” inches into the soil. Postion with the pointy end up.
  4. After planting water well, thoroughly soaking the soil to settle it around the bulbs. Most bulbs will begin to grow roots in just a few days, but allow some leeway to respond to individual conditions. Buds and blooms will appear in late winter or early spring, depending on the variety and your climate.
  5. When in bloom, feel free to cut paperwhite flowers for fragrant bouquets. An insider's tip: members of the narcissus family have sap that contains a checmical that causes other flowers to wilt. Avoid mixing paperwhites (or daffodils) in a vase with other flowers.
  6. When this season's blooms are past, your bulbs need to store energy for next year's show. Allow the leaves to photosynthesize (process sunlight to produce food) until they yellow and wither. This is the time to remove the spent foliage. Trimming still-green foliage will reduce the plant's ability to nourish next year's flowers, resulting in fewer, smaller flowers.
  7. During the hot dry summer, pots of paperwhites can be retired to a shady, out of the way location where they can rest. When fall returns, pull the pots out into the sun and, begin watering with a little fertilizer. The cycle can be repeated for years.
Forcing Paperwhites Indoors
  1. Paperwhites need only 3” of root room so shallow containers work well. Pretty glass or ceramic bowls are ideal. For one-of-a-kind presentations, scout antique stores and estate sales for unusual containers. These make simple, unique gifts.
  2. Plant your paperwhites in soil, pebbles, tumbled beach glass, terra cotta pellets (sold by orchid suppliers) or glass marbles. The planting medium just needs to provide support for the plants and must be suitable for roots to grow through. Because paperwhites are usually discarded or transplanted after flowering, the container's planting medium doesn't need to supply nutrients.
  3. Plant the bulbs with their wide bottoms down and the top inch of each bulb above the soil/pebble line. Plant close together, almost touching, for the most floriferous display.
  4. Add water so the soil is moist. If planted in pebbles, chips or marbles, add enough water to come within 3/4” of the top of the pebbles. This will keep the base of the paperwhite bulb moist without soaking the entire bulb. The goal is to have the very bottom of the bulbs just touching the water as this will encourage root growth.
  5. Place the pot or bowl in sunny or very bright location. Lots of light will keep stems from growing too tall and becoming floppy. In a week or two, roots will appear, with top sprouts following shortly thereafter. Bud and blooms develop quickly; it's fun to watch the daily progress. You'll be enjoying blooms and fragrance in a few short weeks.
  6. If you live in a frost-free area, after your paperwhites have bloomed you may move them to the garden for future flowering. Simply transplant them to a sunny site. Handle the bulbs gently so the roots remain intact.Water well. Fertilize lightly when transplanted and again beginning in the fall. Keep in mind that forcing often requires the bulbs to produce foliage and flowers without nutrients as they are situated in water not soil. Bulbs forced this way usually take at least one season to get their strength back after being planted outside.
  7. During the hot dry summer, pots of paperwhites can be retired to a shady, out of the way location where they can rest. When fall returns, pull the pots out into the sun and, begin watering with a little fertilizer. The cycle can be repeated for years.

Note: For indoor forcing, we recommend choosing paperwhites rather than other types of narcissus. This group of bulbs require no special cooling or conditioning. Flowers typically appear in 30-40 days and are wonderfully fragrant.




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