Paperwhites are a variety of narcissus (Narcissus tazetta). They have bright white flowers and green leaves that grow in clumps. Paperwhites are native to the Mediterranean region, but they’re commonly grown in gardens and as potted plants all over the world. Unlike many other types of bulbs, paperwhites don’t require a cold period or vernalization to bloom.
Paperwhites belong to the family Amaryllidaceae and are part of the genus Narcissus. Most members of this group are perennial flowering plants that produce fragrant flowers during winter or spring. However, paperwhites generally bloom indoors during late fall and early winter.
Paperwhites are among the easiest plants to grow from bulbs in water. However, it can be difficult to get paperwhite bulbs to flower more than once. Like most other types of narcissi, paperwhite flowers only bloom for one season before dying off. After the blooming period ends, it’s best to discard the bulbs and start fresh with new ones each year.
Here are some more reasons to grow Paperwhites:
They’ll brighten your home during the winter months.
Paperwhites will provide fragrance when other flowers aren’t blooming.
Growing paperwhites is a fun project for kids.
Paperwhites make great gifts for friends and family members.
Growing Paperwhites in Water
Growing paperwhite bulbs in water are easy and require no soil at all. You will need a container with a heavy base to hold the water and keep the paperwhites from tipping over as they grow tall and top-heavy with flowers.
- Fill the pot with pebbles, marbles, or even decorative glass gems. Place the bulb on top of the bed of gravel, and then fill in around it with more gravel. Make sure that there is at least 1/2 inch of space between the top of the bulb and the rim of the pot so that you can pour water into it.
- Position your paperwhites in a sunny window. They like to be in a warm room where they will receive at least six hours of sun per day. Keep them away from cold drafts or heating vents.
- Check your paperwhites daily for signs of sprouting. Once you see green shoots coming out of the top, add water to just below the base of the bulb. Top off your water as necessary until you see roots growing out of the bottom of the bulb (about three weeks).
- Water your paperwhites sparingly after they are established, but keep them moist enough so that their leaves don’t wilt or turn brown at their tips.
Caring for paperwhites is relatively simple and these plants can be grown outdoors or indoors. For best results, follow these tips:
Watering: Water regularly until foliage reaches 4-5 inches tall, then water sparingly until blooming time.
Light: Place paperwhites in a sunny window or under fluorescent light for best results.
Soil: Use a well-drained potting mix and plant bulbs shoulder deep with the pointed end facing up.
Temperature: Paperwhites grow best when kept at temperatures between 65°F – 70°F.
Fertilizing: Apply fertilizer once per week once yellowing begins on lower leaves.
Paperwhites are not cold-hardy and will usually die if exposed to freezing temperatures. However, it is possible to propagate paperwhite narcissus from seeds or bulbs.
Propagate Paperwhite Plants from Seeds:
Collect the seeds from an existing plant. Narcissus plants have compound flowers that contain multiple individual flowers, called florets. If a flower is pollinated, each floret on flower will produce a seed. Once the flowers fade and die, you can collect the seeds from the plant by removing them from their pods
Prepare containers for planting by filling them with a sterile potting soil mix and moistening it thoroughly with warm water before planting
Plant one seed in each cell of a seed tray or in small pots to allow them room to grow. Space seeds about 1/2 inch apart on top of the soil and cover with 1/8 inch of soil. Monitor them every once in a while, and you’re good to go!
Propagate Paperwhite Plants from Cuttings:
To do this, take a cutting of about 5-8″ tall after the blooms fade and place it in a glass of water. Change the water every couple of days. In about two weeks, you will see roots forming in the water. Once the roots are about an inch long, plant in a pot filled with commercial potting soil or homemade potting mix with added perlite for drainage. Be sure to keep the bulb covered with soil so it won’t turn green!
Paperwhites grown from cuttings will not bloom until next year (or possibly even two years), but they can add a tropical look to your home during winter and spring.
Pest and Disease Control
Paperwhites, like all daffodils, have several pests and diseases that can infect the plants and damage their health or even kill them.
Paperwhite Narcissus Pests
The most common pest for paperwhites is the narcissus bulb fly. These insects lay eggs inside the bulb, where their larvae feed on the plant’s energy reserves. The larvae then pupate in the bulb and emerge as adult flies in the spring. Bulb flies can also transmit diseases from one plant to another as they move between bulbs.
Narcissus bulb flies are tiny, dark flies with distinctive orange markings and wings that appear translucent when held up to the light. Using pesticides is not an effective method of control because it takes place too late in the season; these chemicals won’t reach the larvae inside the bulbs in time to save your plants. Instead, avoid overcrowding your bulbs and destroy any bulbs you find with infestations before planting them in your garden.
Botrytis blight. This fungus causes tan to gray spots on the leaves, which may drop prematurely.
Virus. This disease causes white or yellow streaks on the leaves and is spread by aphids.
Southern blight. This fungus causes a soft rot at the base of the plant, which kills it quickly.
Thrips. These tiny insects cause damage to the leaves and flowers of Paperwhite plants, causing them to show silvery scars and brown streaks where they have fed on the plant tissue.
Fungal Leaf Spot Diseases: Leaf spot diseases are caused by various fungi and bacteria that live in wet conditions and infect the foliage of Paperwhite plants with dark spots.
Neem Oil Treatment
The best and most efficient way to treat paperwhites for the disease is with neem oil. This product is a natural fungicide and pesticide derived from the neem tree that works like commercial insecticides and fungicides but is organic. It is safe around people, animals, and beneficial insects such as bees and ladybugs, but will harm other insects such as spider mites, aphids, and whiteflies. The oil acts as an insecticide by suffocating the insect it comes in contact with; as a fungicidal, it blocks the ability of fungi to reproduce.