Growing Paperwhites Indoors: When to Plant for Holiday Blooms

Plan early for the holidays with beautiful paperwhites.

Christmas Reef and Paperwhites in Bloom
DebraLee Wiseberg / Getty Images

What's better than fresh cut flowers? Growing your own, right on your table or countertop. This is easy to do when you grow paperwhites. Paperwhite bulbs are part of the daffodil (Narcissus) family and are known for producing beautiful, fragrant white blooms indoors. These flowers are great if you like having unique houseplants or need a bright visual pick-me-up during colder months. Many gardeners will grow paperwhites for special occasions like the holiday season or to give a gift as a friend.

Plus, they are one of the easiest bulbs to force indoors. Unlike others types that require a dormant and “cold” period before planting, you can start growing paperwhites immediately, right out of the box or bag. This makes them a great choice for kids and anyone else who wants guaranteed results.

Here’s how you can successfully get paperwhites to bloom in your own home.

Warning

Keep in mind that paperwhites are considered toxic to pets, so if you have dogs or cats that like to munch, you might want to skip these or grow them out of reach.

Botanical name Narcissus papyraceus
Common name  Paperwhite
Plant type  Perennial
Size  1-3'
Sun exposure  Full sun to partial shade
Soil type  All types
Soil pH  Neutral
Time to mature  4-6 weeks
Flower color  White
Hardiness zones 8-11 outdoors; anywhere indoors
Native area Mediterranean
Toxicity Toxic to dogs and cats

How to Plant Paperwhites

When growing paperwhites inside, you can either use traditional soil, rocks, or marbles. That's right—you don’t even need soil to grow these bulbs. If possible, choose a clear glass container to grow your paperwhites. This will help you see the roots, which will come in handy later on. 

Fill your container most of the way full with soil or pebbles. Then add bulbs, pointed sides up. It’s fine if the bulbs are close to one another; in fact, they shouldn’t be more than an inch apart to get a nice bouquet of blooms. Finally, add in another layer of soil or pebbles, keeping at least the top third of the bulb exposed. Then add water. 

All in all, the blooming process can take anywhere from 4-8 weeks, so plan accordingly if you're hoping to decorate your home with flowers by Christmastime. The exact amount of time will depend on your location, indoor temperatures, lighting, and other factors.

Paperwhites Care

Early on in the growing process, you’ll want to put your paperwhites in a slightly cooler, darker location as you wait for the bulbs to root. Check the water every few days to make sure they have plenty. If you’re growing in pebbles or marbles, make sure the bulbs are sitting in water. 

Look for the plants to start rooting. Once they form good, strong roots, which could be anywhere from 1-3 weeks, it’s go time. Move them to a sunny location, and be sure they have plenty of bright, indirect light to help them bloom in another 2-4 weeks. 

In general, paperwhites will stay blooming for 10-14 days. In the first few days, they are extremely fragrant and can even be too strong for some. But as the scent wears off, they'll continue to brighten your space.

Paperwhite Varieties

As you get good at growing paperwhites, it’s fun to try different varieties. You can test out your favorites based on the precise scent, color, size, and other factors. If you’re growing paperwhites for the first time or need something new to try, a variety called Bethlehem has creamy white petals and is a great first choice. Another is Ziva, known for its strong scents. And Grand Soleil D’or is a variety that has a bit of a fruity scent overall.

All paperwhites are easy to grow. Look in the bulbs section of the garden center or shop online. There are so many good ones to discover.

Growing Paperwhites Outside

Paperwhite Narcissus (Narcissus papyraceus)
Valter Jacinto / Getty Images

You can grow paperwhites outdoors if you live in USDA Zones 8-11. If you decide to give it a try, grow them just as you would daffodils. You can also actually grow them in pots on a patio, just as you would indoors. Otherwise, they’re best as forced bulbs indoors. As you get better and better at growing paperwhites, you’ll be able to time the process perfectly for that special event or holiday party. You can also try to force other bulbs indoors for the holidays, or at any time of year.