Growing Paperwhite: Tips On Planting Paperwhite Bulbs Outdoors

Outdoor Paperwhite Bulbs
(Image credit: ouchi_iro)

Narcissus paperwhite bulbs are classic holiday gifts that produce indoor blooms to brighten the winter doldrums. Those little bulb kits make growing paperwhites super easy by providing the bulb, soil, and a container. All you do is add water and put the container in a warm place in bright light. Planting paperwhite bulbs outside is still a fairly simple process, but you can't do it when winter temperatures still exist. Find out how to grow paperwhites in the home landscape for spring blooms.

About Narcissus Paperwhite Bulbs

Paperwhites are native to the Mediterranean region. They produce daffodil-like white blooms on slender stems 1 to 2 feet (30.5-61 cm.) tall. Each stem produces four to eight flowers that are typically an inch (2.5 cm.) wide and snowy white. The bulbs prefer warm temperatures of at least 70 degrees F. (21 C.) during the day and 60 degrees F. (16 C.) at night. The flowers are not hardy in freezing temperatures and are only suitable in USDA zones 8 to 10. You can force them in pots indoors for outdoor displays or plant them in a prepared bed outside. Bulbs in kits come to the United States ready to grow and need no chilling period in winter. If you buy bulbs in fall, they will need to be planted outside immediately and they produce flowers in spring.

How to Grow Paperwhites Outdoors

Will paperwhite bulbs grow outside? They grow in the proper zone as long as you get them into the soil in fall or give them a cold period before planting. Narcissus requires well-draining soil in full sun. Amend the soil with leaf litter or plenty of compost when growing paperwhites. Dig holes 3 to 4 inches (7.5-10 cm.) deep when planting paperwhites. These plants look best when massed in clusters of slender stems so plant them in clusters of three to five bulbs. Anytime between September and December is the right time for planting paperwhites. Water the area after planting and then pretty much forget about the bulbs until spring. Check the area in April to May and you will start to see the green shoots of the foliage forcing their way through the soil.

Care of Paperwhites

Paperwhites are one of the easiest flowers to care for. The blooms last for over a week and then you can cut off the spent stems. Leave the foliage in the ground until it is dead, then cut it back. The foliage helps gather solar energy for the bulb to store and use in the next season's growth. If you planted the flowers as forced bulbs in cooler zones, you would need to dig them up and overwinter them indoors. Let the bulb dry out for a few days and then nestle it in a mesh or paper bag surrounded by peat moss. In successive seasons, good care of paperwhites should include a high phosphorus fertilizer worked into the soil around the bulbs in spring. This will help encourage bigger and healthier blooms. Growing paperwhites is easy and makes a lovely indoor or outdoor display.

Bonnie L. Grant

Bonnie Grant is a professional landscaper with a Certification in Urban Gardening. She has been gardening and writing for 15 years. A former professional chef, she has a passion for edible landscaping.