Paperwhites are those delicate white blooms often displayed in Christmas decor magazines. Planted a few months before the holidays, these popular indoor plants will bloom just in time for Christmas. Learn how to plant paperwhites, Narcissus Papyraceus, and fill your home with these scented and sweet blooms for the holiday season.
I’ll never forget my first paperwhites.
I planted them many years ago. I wondered if I would have any success with these adorable holiday blooms, although they seemed simple enough to plant.
It was so much fun to watch the bulbs begin to grow and fairly quickly produce those tiny white daffodil shaped flowers.
They bloomed before Christmas, and maintained their flowering throughout the holiday season.
When the leaves and stems grew really tall, a few of them started to flop over. I learned that this was common, and tying them was a solution.
We tied the stems with raffia, which helped to keep the stems and leaves together nicely. It also looked very festive with the addition of the raffia bow.
I always associate paperwhite flowers with Christmas. They are part of my early holiday memories as a young adult.
These bulbs and flowers are simple and delicate, and yet so easy to grow.
One of the very best things about paperwhites is their absolute ease to plant. These bulbs are perfect to grow even for a beginner gardener.
They can be planted in soil or without soil, in beautiful vessels or in plain pots. Sometimes the simpler the presentation the better, to display these lovely flowers in their glory.
What Are Paperwhites?
Paperwhites are narcissus bulbs, and are a variety of daffodil known as Narcissus Papyraceus.
The fragrant blooms are highly scented, and take a bit getting used to. They are similar to Easter lilies with a comparable strong floral scent.
Compared to paperwhites, garden variety Daffodils are perennial bulbs that are usually planted in the garden in fall, and which grow and bloom the following spring. These bulbs require a period of cold temperature treatment, which the winter temperatures should provide.
As well, these flower bulbs will also naturalize, and grow large patches in the garden from the first planting. Once established, garden daffodils will continue to grow and spread each year, and bloom in profusion each spring.
Paperwhite narcissus on the other hand, are not planted into the garden in fall. They do not require a two to three month cold treatment for blooming.
Rather, paperwhites are tropical bulbs and are not winter hardy in areas that have frozen ground during the winter months.
They have become traditional Christmas or holidays bulbs, which are forced indoors for a holiday display. Instead of planting them into the garden, they are planted into containers to display indoors during the holiday season.
It’s a wonderful way of bringing the garden indoors, and the tiny white blooms are so simple and they fit in with just about any decor.
When To Plant Paperwhites Bulbs For Christmas
These bulbs are often available at big box stores and local nurseries right after Halloween. The timing is perfect to plant and have blooms just in time for the holiday season.
Paperwhites should be planted approximately six to eight weeks before the holidays to hopefully get blooms in time for Christmas.
How To Plant Paperwhites Indoors
There are a number of different ways in which to plant your paperwhites.
If you have purchased your bulbs in a complete package, you will generally have everything you need to plant the bulbs included within the box.
You can always change the container if you wish, if you decide to plant them with a different look in mind.
For maximum impact, plant paperwhite bulbs in large groups or groupings and fill your container with the bulbs.
Different Methods For Planting Paperwhites
Following are two different methods for planting paperwhites.
For each method, prepare your paper white bulbs by removing any loose skin before planting, just to clean up the look of the bulb.
Planting Paperwhites In A Vase With Water And Pebbles
- Using this method, paperwhites can be planted into a beautiful glass vessel.
- The vessel can be a tall glass vase, which will support the paperwhite leaves and stems as they grow. It can also be a shallow bowl, with the paperwhites placed right at the surface for a natural look.
- The aesthetic of paperwhites planted in shallow containers can be quite pleasing to the eye.
- The chosen vessel is filled with several inches of pebbles or decorative stones at the bottom of the container, to provide a base on which to place the paperwhite bulbs.
- Pebbles or stones provide structure, and also add to the visual interest of the display.
- You can substitute pebbles for other materials, such as granite gravel, sea glass, marbles, or even coloured glass pebbles from the dollar store.
- The paper white bulbs are then placed onto the pebbles, with the pointed tips facing up. Make sure that the root side has good contact with the pebbles. You don’t have to worry about overcrowding or spacing between the bulbs.
- Water is then added, adding just enough to almost reach the base of the bulbs, but not quite. Do not add too much water so that the bulbs are sitting directly in water, as this can cause rotting of the bulbs.
- Ensure that the water level is below the base or bottom of the bulbs.
- Top the water up as necessary. Within several weeks the roots will begin to grow, and the bulbs will begin to sprout.
Growing paperwhites in a beautiful vessel adds an elegant look to the display. The bulbs and roots will be visible, making for a beautiful natural and organic display.
Planting Paperwhites In Soil Or Soilless Medium
- Planting in a pot with a potting mix or soilless medium is another option.
- I purchased an all inclusive box with paperwhite bulbs this season, which included everything one would need for planting a paper white display.
- The medium provided in the boxed set was a dehydrated and compressed coconut coir. It was simple to rehydrate and fun to watch as it quadrupled in size as the water was added to it.
- In the past I have used a potting mix, which was interesting to compare to the coconut coir.
- If planting in potting soil or a soilless medium, choose a pot with drainage holes.
- Place bulbs pointy end up into the planting medium, with approximately one half to two thirds of the bulb planted into the medium, and leaving the rest of the bulb exposed to the air on top. The medium acts as a support and will hold the bulb upright.
- You can add a decorative touch to this planting by adding moss around the bulbs for a more finished look, or you can leave them just as they are. Either way they look very attractive in the container.
- Water in after planting, then wait for the bulbs to start sprouting before watering regularly. Keep the medium moist.
- Once there is active growth water the bulbs every few days.
How Long Do Paperwhites Take To Bloom?
The length of time it takes for Paperwhites to bloom can vary, and is dependent on temperature, light, and moisture.
If the room or location is warm, and approximately 18-20°C, the bulbs should start to sprout within several weeks. Once they have begun to grow they will take another four to six weeks to bloom.
I planted my Paperwhites bulbs on November 8th. There was no growth visible on the top of the bulb when first planted.
Within two weeks the first evidence of sprouting was noticeable. From that time frame to first bloom took five weeks (seven weeks post planting).
However this year the bulbs were very slow to bloom, as the stems were in different stages of growth.
They continued to bloom over a period of four weeks, rather than having a flush of blooms that is most typical of paperwhite blooms.
Generally, the stems will form buds and then bloom, with a cluster of multiple flowers at the top of each stem.
The stems usually flower together, so that your display will have many flowering stems in bloom all at the same time. The delicate white flowers along with the long green leaves and stems make for a striking presentation, and a natural looking holiday display.
How To Care For Paperwhites
- Water paperwhites every second day while in active growth, once the stems and leaves become visible and start to grow.
- Immediately after planting, the bulbs benefit from being in a darker and cooler location, which may be beneficial to promote root growth before stem growth. During root growth, place in an area with indirect light or low light.
- When the bulbs begin to sprout, a sunny spot is preferable.
- Once the paperwhites begin to bloom, avoid direct sunlight for longer lasting blooms.
Supporting The Stems
- The stems and leaves of paper white bulbs can grow quickly and become quite tall.
- Support the stems with ribbon or twine halfway up the length of the leaves, which will hold everything in place.
- If the bulbs are in a tall glass vase, the sides of the vase will naturally support the stems and leaves as they grow.
- The leaves will tend to bend towards the light. Rotate the growing container, and the leaves will naturally readjust.
Paperwhites And Alcohol
Researchers from the Flowerbulb Research Program at Cornell University have come up with a way to help prevent paperwhite stems and leaves from drooping, called Pickling Your Paperwhites.
The technique involves watering the paperwhites when they are in an active stage of growth, with a solution of water with 4% to 6% alcohol. The part alcohol solution includes using any sort of consumable spirit such as vodka, rum, gin, tequila or whiskey to name a few.
The use of alcohol on growing paperwhites is known to stump the leaf growth, creating a stockier plant which is less apt to become droopy.
The plant’s growth is one half to one third shorter than expected without the alcohol solution.
How Long Do Paperwhites Last?
Paperwhites will grow fairly quickly after planting, and by about six to eight weeks after planting you should have lots of blooms.
The bulbs will bloom for one to two weeks, and then the flowers will fade.
Unless of course they bloom sporadically over the course of a month, as mine did this year. In this case each set of blooms still only lasted about a week, although the overall blooming period was prolonged.
Paperwhites Flower Care After Blooming
Snip off the spent flowers from the flower stems once they have finished blooming.
Once all the flowers have finished blooming, you can still enjoy the foliage in the display as long as it remains green and healthy. I love to grow the bulb on for a while, treating as a house plant while the leaves are still green.
Eventually the leaves will begin to get yellow.
What To Do With Paperwhites After They Bloom
In warmer growing zones where the ground does not freeze, paperwhites can be saved and planted outdoors in the garden.
In cooler climates however, the bulbs are generally treated as annuals, and discarded once the bulb becomes dormant.
If you have been growing the bulbs in pebbles or glass, remember to disinfect your growing medium, to reuse with your new paperwhite bulbs again next year.
Planting paperwhites is such a fun indoor gardening activity during the early winter months. Indoor forcing of the bulbs allows us to enjoy these wonderful flowers during the gardening off season.
The project is easy to do, and the bulbs are some of the easiest flowers to grow.
The pure white flowers are simple and pleasing to the eye. The bulbs are quite natural and organic, and allow us to experience fresh blooms indoors in winter.
Enjoy these sweet indoor blooms every holiday season. They may very well become an important part of your holiday traditions, just as they are at our house.
These fragrant flowers also make great gifts, especially if they are planted in a beautiful vessel.
You also don’t have to plant them just for the holidays. If you succession plant, you can have paperwhites blooming all winter long.
Have you ever tried to plant paperwhites for holiday blooming? Be sure to leave a comment below to share your experience!