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How to Grow the Elegant Paperwhite Narcissus

The Paperwhite Narcissus plant is another name for the popular Daffodil flower. Paperwhites are prized houseplants because blooming can be timed to occur in winter. For this reason, the plant is often associated with the winter holiday season. In addition to the beautiful blooms, this Mediterranean plant’s flowers give off strong, but pleasant, fragrance.

How to Grow the Elegant Paperwhite Narcissus

Paperwhite Narcissus Appearance

The Paperwhite Narcissus plant features long, slender stems in a bright green. The blooms are a bright white with six elongated petals around yellow stamen. The look is clean and classic, resembling the Daffodil. The plant emerges from bulbs, growing quickly and blooming in four to six weeks. Forcing Paperwhites to bloom for Christmas is possible, but to ensure flowers from new bulbs, start new plants around the first week of November.

Paperwhite Narcissus Sunlight Requirements

Provide bright, indirect sunlight for optimal blooming. Place the plant in a windowsill with bright, filtered sunlight through a sheer curtain. Avoid direct sunlight as it will scorch the foliage. Turn the plant regularly to ensure equal exposure for all sides of the plant.

Growing Paperwhites

While Paperwhite bulbs will grow and bloom if grown in soil, most plants are grown hydroponically instead. Choose a glass vase or bowl and fill the bottom two to three inches with small, decorative pebbles or glass beads. The pebbles or beads should be new, or at least freshly washed to avoid introducing bacteria.

Place the bulbs in the container, pushing the bottoms of the bulbs into the pebbles until just the top ½ inch of the bulb’s pointy tip stands above. Positioning the bulbs close to each other is recommended as the Paperwhites are slim and look best when grown in a tight bunch of several plants. Pour water into the container until only the bottoms of the bulbs come in contact with the water. 

Controlling Paperwhite Narcissus Size

One of the challenges of growing Paperwhites indoors is their height. Often the plants will grow so tall they begin to flop over, which ruins the aesthetics of these simple flowers. To stunt their growth, but cause no harm to the plant, replace the water with a water & alcohol solution once the plants reach two inches in height.

When the right plant height has been achieved, carefully pour the water out of the container. Choose a hard alcohol that is 40 percent–such as vodka, white rum, or tequila. Mix 1 part alcohol with 7 parts water and pour the mixture into the container up to the bottoms of the bulbs. 

Temperature and Humidity Levels

Temperature and Humidity Levels for Paperwhite Narcissus

Paperwhite Narcissus plants prefer cooler temperatures. Keep the plants between 65 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit (18 to 21 Celsius). Average household humidity levels are fine for these plants, especially when grown solely in water.

Pruning Your Paperwhites

Deadhead the Paperwhite blooms as they expire to encourage new blooms. Prune any wilted or unhealthy stems as needed. 

Propagating the Paperwhite Narcissus

The easiest way to propagate Paperwhites is through bulb division. Choose healthy bulbs with no rot and gently separate the bulbs at natural divisions. Allow the bulbs to dry for a day or two to callous over.  Plant the bulbs as usual.

Common Pests and Diseases

The Large Narcissus Fly is the most common pest of the Paperwhites. The flies resemble a small bee and the insects lay eggs on the plant’s foliage. The larvae then hatch and make their way to the bulbs, which they then chew and destroy. Dealing with the larvae is not easy. When growing these plants indoors, inspect each bulb for holes and signs of infestation. Severely damaged bulbs should be thrown away to avoid more flies. Control the Narcissus Fly infestations by placing bulbs in water around 107 F (42 C) for 40 minutes will kill any larvae in the bulb. 

Basal rot, caused by fungus fusarium, will destroy bulbs. Once the rot has set in the affected bulbs must be discarded to avoid spreading the fungus to other bulbs. 

Paperwhite Narcissus are classic flowers with an elegant appearance. They look best when grown in glass containers filled with pebbles and water. Purchase these bulbs in October to have them ready for November planting, which will result in blooms for the winter holiday season.

Paperwhite Narcissus FAQ

When Do I Water My Paperwhites if I’m Growing Them in Soil?

If growing these plants in soil, water them when the first one to two inches of soil feels dry. Paperwhite Narcissus prefers a consistently moist soil but not to the point of being soggy.

In What Climates Can I Leave My Paperwhite Bulbs Planted Outdoors All Year?

Paperwhite bulbs can remain in the ground in USDA zones 8 to 12. For lower zones, wait until the greenery dies off, then dig up the bulbs and store them until next spring.

What Do I Do With the Greenery After the Paperwhite Narcissus Bulbs Have Died Off?

After blooming has finished, continue to care for the foliage until it dies off naturally. During this time, the bulbs are reabsorbing nutrients they will need to grow and bloom next season. Once the greenery has died off, snip it off just above the bulb and store the bulbs in a cool, dark, and dry place.

Should I Deadhead My Paperwhite Blooms?

Yes, snip off the flowers as they begin to die off to retain the aesthetics of the arrangement and to redirect energy back into the plant.

Which Paperwhite Narcissus Variety Has the Most Fragrance?

The Ziva Paperwhites have the strongest fragrance of the many Paperwhites varieties.