Fragrant and Fabulous: Paperwhite Narcissus

You can easily enjoy an early taste of spring by growing paperwhite narcissus indoors (they can also be grown outdoors for spring bloom in very warm zones). These tender bulbs require no chilling period so they can be potted up from October through February for a constant procession of blooms.

Paperwhite narcissus can be grown in standard potting mix (in pots with drain holes), or they can be set on gravel or pebbles in a bowl or vase with water added to just below the bulb bases. Bulbs produce several flowering stems, each topped with a cluster of about 6 to 10 white flowers that are extremely fragrant (some may find the scent a bit overwhelming!).

Common name: Paperwhite narcissus

Botanical name: Narcissus papyraceus

Plant type: Bulb

Zones: 9 to 11 outdoors; all zones indoors

Height: 12 to 18 inches

Family: Amaryllidaceae


Growing conditions

  • Sun: Window with bright indirect light and/or under fluorescent lights
  • Soil: Soilless potting mix in pot or gravel/pebbles plus water in bowl or vase
  • Moisture: Even moisture; in closed containers, make sure water level stays just below the bulb base to avoid rot.

Care

  • Mulch: None
  • Pruning: None
  • Fertilizer: Indoors, none; outdoors, apply bonemeal or high phosophorus fertilizer annually

Propagation

  • Outdoors, dig, divide and replant bulbs when clumps get too crowded.

Pests and diseases

  • None


Cultivars

  • ‘Ziva’ is a strong-growing cultivar that is especially good for indoor forcing.
  • ‘Ariel’ blooms a bit earlier than ‘Ziva’.

Garden notes

  • After bloom, throw paperwhite narcissus into the compost or trash since they can’t be forced again.
  • For a fascinating look at root growth, grow paperwhite narcissus in a clear glass bowl or vase filled with smooth pebbles.
  • Paperwhites look best when grown in groups; try 3, 5, 7 or more bulbs, depending on container size.

All in the family

  • Paperwhite narcissus is a member of the amaryllis family (Amaryllidaceae), a large group of bulbs and herbaceous plants.
  • Other garden bulbs and houseplants in the amaryllis family include amaryllis (Hippeastrum), snowdrops (Galanthus), rain lily (Zephyranthus) and clivia.

Where to buy