Your Guide to Planning, Planting, and Growing Paperwhites
Paperwhites are fragrant, winter-blooming flower bulbs. In frost-free climates (zones 8-11) the bulbs may be planted outdoors in fall for late winter blooms. In colder climates, paperwhite bulbs are grown indoors for flowers during the winter months. The following instructions are for growing the bulbs indoors.
Inside each paperwhite bulb is everything that’s needed to produce a living bouquet of beautiful flowers. Simply put the bulbs in a container, add water, and they'll be blooming in just 3 to 4 weeks. If you plant a handful of bulbs every few weeks, you can have fresh flowers coming into bloom from November through January. Here’s how to get your paperwhite bulbs off to a great start:
When to Plant
Paperwhites may be grown indoors from late fall through late winter. Bloom time is determined by planting time, so if you plant a few bulbs each month, you'll be able to have paperwhites blooming all winter long.
Any bulbs that you won't be planting right away should be kept in a cool (40 to 50°F), dark place. A ventilated plastic bag will help to keep the bulbs from drying out. Paperwhites are sensitive to cold temperatures, so don't let the bulbs freeze.
How to Plant Paperwhites
When paperwhites are planted indoors, they are usually grown without soil. Choose a shallow, watertight container and fill the bottom with two or three inches of small stones. Marble chips, polished stones, glass beads or washed gravel all work fine. Planting groups of five or more bulbs will give you the best show. Place the bulbs closely together (touching each other is fine) with their pointed ends up. The tops of the bulbs should be even with or slightly above the rim of the pot. Add enough stones to hold the bulbs in place, leaving the top 1/2" of the bulbs exposed.
Once the bulbs are settled in the container, add a small amount of water. The water should barely touch the base of the bulbs. Put the pot in a cool, bright location. Over the next two weeks, water sparingly, adding only enough water to maintain the same level. Once the bulbs begin growing, you'll need to replenish the water more often, but keep the level just below the base of the bulbs.
If you would rather grow your paperwhites in a pot with soil, choose a container with a drainage hole. Add several inches of growing mix and settle the bulbs in place, keeping the top quarter of the bulb above the soil surface. For best results, moisten the growing mix before adding it to the container, and then water sparingly until the bulbs have developed roots and are growing well.
How to Care for Paperwhites
As the plants grow, turn the pot every few days to keep the foliage upright. Bright light and relatively cool temperatures (60-65°F) will help the plants grow quickly without getting too tall. If the stems get too tall to support themselves, you can encircle the foliage with ribbon or string.
Like most bulbs that are forced for indoor flowers, paperwhites should be discarded after they finish blooming.
In warm climates, where temperatures don't go below 20°F, paperwhite bulbs may be planted outdoors in late fall for blooms in late winter. Plant the bulbs about 6" deep and 4" apart. Even in warm climates, paperwhites are usually treated as annuals. The bulbs require hot, dry summers in order to produce a good show of flowers the following year. For this reason, they are considered perennials only in Southern California and parts of Texas.