A Complete Guide to Growing Paperwhite Flowers
From the best lighting conditions to alternative ways to grow them and more, two gardening experts share their advice.
If you aren't already growing paperwhites in your garden, then now's the time to get started. "Paperwhites are a showy perennial with bright white petals and blue-green leaves that give off a sweet, musky fragrance," says Valerie Ghitelman, VP of product development, design, and sourcing at 1-800-Flowers.com. "This hardy bulb blooms naturally outdoors in the spring but can be potted and grown indoors during the winter months."
Interested in learning more about how to grow and care for paperwhites, both indoors and out? We asked Ghitelman and professional gardening expert Melinda Myers to share their advice about planting and maintaining these fragrant flowers.
How to Grow Paperwhites from Bulbs Outdoors
A member of the daffodil family, Myers says that paperwhites are grown from bulbs rather than from seeds. To grow paperwhite flowers in an outdoor garden, Myers recommends planting the bulbs in fall for a spring bloom. "Plant bulbs six inches deep in a sunny location with well-drained soil," she advises. Additionally, Ghitelman suggests planting paperwhites in clusters of three to five bulbs, spaced about four inches apart in the garden bed. "This way, they will grow in groups and create maximum impact with their bright white hue when in bloom," she explains.
How to Grow Paperwhites from Bulbs Indoors
When growing paperwhites indoors, Myers says bulbs can be planted and grown container-style in stones or soil. "To grow in stones, fill a shallow watertight container with two inches of sterile pea gravel, pebbles or marbles," she advises. "Place five or more bulbs, pointed end up, close together on the gravel, and secure the bulbs in place by covering the bottom half of the bulbs with more pebbles." To grow paperwhites in soil, Myers says to use a shallow container with drainage holes. "Cover the bottom of the pot with several inches of a quality potting mix," she says. "Set the bulbs close together on top of the potting mix (pointed end up) and add enough soil so just the top one third of the bulb is exposed."
How to grow paperwhites from seedpods.
While it is possible to grow paperwhites from seeds, Ghitelman says it will require propagating an already established plant—and a lot of patience. "You will have to wait until the blooms of an established plant have expired and its swollen, greenish-brown seedpods have appeared," she explains. "Move the seedpods to a plastic bag surrounded by a damp paper towels and use fluorescent lights to help them germinate. Over time, the seeds will transform into small bulblets which can be potted to help mature into fully formed bulbs, but this could take anywhere from three to five years."
Divide the Bulbs of Established Paperwhites to Grow New Ones
In addition to using the seedpods of an established plant to grow fresh paperwhites, Ghitelman says you can divide up the bulbs of an established plant to grow new ones. "A fun fact about paperwhites is that they naturalize outdoors, meaning their bulbs multiply underneath the soil," she explains. "Every three years in the fall, it is recommended to dig up the bulbs, split them up and plant them so they may produce new paperwhite blooms in the spring."
How to Care for Paperwhites
When it comes to caring for your paperwhites, Ghitelman says it mostly comes down to watering them correctly. "Check the bulbs frequently and water thoroughly when the soil is dry one inch below the surface, but not more than once a week until the plant begins active growth," she advises. Ghitelman adds that it's also important to keep paperwhites out of direct sunlight until their bulbs have rooted when growing them indoors. "This usually takes about three weeks and can be checked by tugging gently on the bulbs, and if met with any resistance, then it is a good indicator that they have begun to produce roots," she explains. "Once this happens, the container can be moved to a sunny window."