Your Guide to Growing Paperwhites Indoors or Outdoors
Paperwhite narcissus, or simply paperwhites, is a type of daffodil that is popular during the holidays. The bulbs produce pretty white winter blooms that fill your home with their fragrance. Their ease of planting and fast growth make them a popular choice for those without a green thumb. People often grow paperwhites for use as indoor decorations or as gifts during Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Paperwhites are perennial bulbs, meaning they will live for at least three years. The blooms are small, star-like blossoms that look more festive when planted in groups. Once they bloom, the flowers last for about 14 days. White is the most common color, but there are also variations with yellow, orange, or bi-colored blooms.
Planting Your Flower Bulbs
You can plant your flower bulbs outdoors in frost-free climates in hardiness zones 8-11 however, it is very common to keep paperwhites indoors. Planting outdoors is a good option in Yuba City with hardiness zones 8a and 8b. You can also plant paperwhites outdoors in areas of Southern Oregon that fall within the hardiness zone of 9b, including Medford.
In colder climates, you can plant paperwhites indoors. Since they are easy to grow and are so appealing as decoration, people often prefer to grow these winter blooms inside. They don’t require any soil to grow — although you can grow them in potting soil if you prefer. As long as they get the light and water they need, you can plant your bulbs in almost anything.
When to Plant
It typically takes between four and six weeks for the bulbs to bloom. Plan accordingly if you want blooms around Thanksgiving or in time for Christmas. Each bulb can produce between 20 and 60 small flowers, so grouping bulbs together in a container will produce full, festive bouquets.
One method that growers use is to plant more flower bulbs every two weeks to keep blooms available throughout the holiday season. This idea works especially well if you plan to give paperwhites as gifts. Use the freshest blooms for gifts so that recipients can enjoy the blooms longer.
You should only plant paperwhites outdoors if you live in a frost-free zone. The risk of frost is one reason that people prefer to plant their flower bulbs indoors.
Planting Paperwhites Indoors
You can plant your paperwhites in a shallow dish, jar, or tall cylinder vase. When planting without soil, clear glass adds to the visual beauty of the display. One problem with growing paperwhites is that they get tall and tend to topple over once they reach their full height. Simply tie the stems together with a decorative ribbon or string to keep the plants upright in shorter planters or pots.
Once you choose a container, cover the bottom with creek pebbles, glass beads, or even marbles. Arrange the flower bulbs on top of the stones so they are close but not touching. Add water so that it is just below the base of the bulbs. Avoid leaving the bulbs covered in water, or they will rot. Place the container in a cool area with lots of light.
Planting Flower Bulbs in Soil
To plant paperwhites in potting soil, use a sturdy container with at least one drainage hole. Fill the container nearly to the top with moistened potting soil. Place the bulbs in the soil with the pointy side up. Once the bulbs are in place, add potting soil to cover most of the bulb with the very tip still exposed. Moisten with water.
Caring for Your Paperwhites
Place the bulbs in or near a sunny spot. Avoid placing them in a window with direct sunlight during the hottest part of the day. For bulbs planted on pebbles, water when needed to keep the level below the bulbs. For those planted in soil, check frequently to see when the soil is dry one inch below the surface.
Rotate the container every few days to keep the plants from reaching toward the sun and keep them straight. Once the blooms begin to wilt, deadhead them to continue enjoying the foliage.
Planting Paperwhites Outdoors
If you opt to plant your paperwhites outdoors, choose a spot with lots of sun and well-drained soil. Plant the bulbs in large groups to achieve maximum impact. Plant each bulb about 6″ deep with several inches in between. Water after planting and then leave them alone.
Once the bulbs are spent and the foliage dies back, you can either throw out the bulbs or keep them for re-blooming. Paperwhites aren’t predictable re-bloomers, but you can give them a try. Take the bulbs from the soil and place them in a paper bag in a cool, dry location. Replant the bulbs again in the following seasons. If you are successful at getting the flower bulbs to bloom again, you might have three or four seasons before the bulbs become unviable.
A Note on Paperwhite Fragrance
People are often divided on whether they love or hate the fragrance produced by the blooms. Fortunately, there are numerous varieties available to meet different tastes. Ziva, Nir, and Ariel have a strong, classic fragrance. While no paperwhite narcissus is completely fragrance-free, the Wintersun and Inbal have a less robust scent.
If you have pets in your home, make sure you keep your paperwhites out of reach. The plants are highly toxic to dogs and cats.
Shop at Grange Co-op for Your Holiday Paperwhites
Paperwhites are inexpensive flower bulbs that don’t require a green thumb to grow. If you’re ready to try your hand at growing these pretty winter blooms, stop by your local Grange Co-op store. We carry paperwhite bulbs in season and have the creek pebbles, potting soil, and a wide assortment of containers to get started. If you need more information, contact a Grange Co-op expert with your questions.