6 Tips for Growing Paperwhites

Paperwhite Narcissus - Longfield Gardens

Where I live, winter is long and having fresh flowers around the house helps keep me sane. I love their beauty and fragrance, but it’s their aliveness that really feeds my soul. And that’s what I like best about paperwhites. For me, their succulent, spring green leaves are just as alluring as the flowers. And when the flowers do open, they have a freshness you can’t get with cut flowers.

Paperwhite Narcissus - Longfield Gardens

There’s nothing difficult about growing paperwhites, but here are a few tips you may find helpful:

  • Plant in groups of 5 to 9 bulbs. Paperwhites are very vertical plants. Big clumps of them look more balanced than just two or three bulbs. Use pots (without drainage holes) that are 6 to 8” wide.
  • Save time by planting all your bulbs at once. I usually grow at least 6 pots of paperwhites each winter. I do all the planting on one day and then store the pre-planted pots in the basement — without adding water. When I’m ready to start a new batch of bulbs, I just bring up a pot and add water.
  • Grow in water not soil. It works just as well, and weighing the bulbs down with stones helps keep them from tipping over. You only need to cover the bottom half of the bulb with stones.
  • Keep the roots wet, bulbs dry. Paperwhite bulbs can sense the presence of water. At first, the water level should almost, but not quite touch the very bottom of the bulbs. Once the roots sprout, only the roots need to be in water.
  • Cool temps and bright light keep plants short. Paperwhites get leggy for two reasons. Either they were grown in a room that’s too warm (above 65°F) or they did not get enough light. For stocky plants, grow the bulbs somewhere that’s cool (50-60°F) and bright. Once you see buds, move the pot into your living space. Keeping the plant cool and away from bright sunlight will extend the bloom time.
  • Add alchohol? Maybe. Researchers at Cornell University found they could reduce the height of paperwhites by watering them with a 4 to 6% alcohol solution. You can use any “hard” liquor (not beer or wine). Mixing 1 part 40% distilled spirit with 7 parts water will give you a 5% solution. I tried it last year and the height was shorter, but I must have made the mix too strong. The foliage looked like it had a hangover.

For detailed planting instructions, read All About Paperwhites

To buy ‘Ziva’ paperwhites, click here.