Germinating Paperwhite Seeds - Planting Paperwhites From Seed

Paperwhite Plants
narcissus polyanthus
(Image credit: CoinUp)

The Paperwhite Narcissus is an aromatic, easy-care plant with lovely white trumpet-like blooms. While most of these beautiful plants are grown from bulbs, it is possible to collect and plant their seeds to produce new plants. However, when planting paperwhites from seeds, you should be aware that this process could be timely with plants taking up to three years or more before producing blooming size bulbs.

Paperwhite Seeds

Paperwhite plants can be propagated by seeds, which are found within the swollen seedpods that appear after paperwhites bloom. While this form of propagation is relatively simple, it does require lots of patience. The tiny, black seeds are collected and then planted in protected areas until they begin forming bulbs, at which time they are transplanted into pots. Germination will usually take anywhere from 28 to 56 days. However, it will take anywhere from three to five years before the seeds produce a blooming size bulb. In addition, if the seed is a hybrid, the new plant will not be the same as the parent plant from which it came.

Collecting Seeds after Paperwhites Bloom

The flowers of paperwhites generally last about a week or two. After paperwhites bloom, allow the spent flowers to remain in order to collect the paperwhite seeds. After paperwhites bloom, small green-like seedpods are left where the flower blossoms were. It should take about ten weeks for these seedpods to fully mature. Once seedpods have ripened, they will turn brown and begin to crack open. Once the seedpod has opened all the way, cut the pods off the stem and carefully shake the paperwhite seeds out, planting them immediately. Paperwhite seeds do not remain viable for very long and should be collected and planted as soon as possible. After seedpods have been collected, take care not to cut back the foliage. The paperwhite plants require this for continual growth and energy.

Starting & Planting Paperwhites from Seed

Starting paperwhite seeds is easy. Simply arrange them on a wet tissue or paper towel approximately 1 to 2 inches (2.5-5 cm.) apart, then carefully fold one side of the tissue over, covering half of the seeds. Fold the remaining side over and cover the rest of the seeds (similar to folding a letter for mailing). Gently place this into a gallon-sized (4 L.) Ziploc storage bag and keep it under fluorescent lights. You can check the status of your seeds in about two to four weeks to see if they have started to germinate. Once the seeds have formed little bulblets, you can plant the seedlings (with the top portion of the bulb just above the surface) in a moist mixture of peat and perlite or a well-draining soilless potting mix. Provide the seedlings with light and keep them moist, but not wet. Be sure not to let the seedlings dry out completely. Once leaves have reached about 6 inches (15 cm.) or more, they can be transplanted into individual pots. Water the soil thoroughly and place in a warm location. Keep in mind that paperwhites are not hardy in cooler climates, so they should be grown in frost-free areas. Once the seedlings have formed bulbs, you can start planting the paperwhites into your garden.

Nikki Tilley
Senior Editor

Nikki Tilley has been gardening for nearly three decades. The former Senior Editor and Archivist of Gardening Know How, Nikki has also authored six gardening books.