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Paperwhites for Forcing and More

Paperwhites are simple to force for indoor bloom, as they need no chilling period. Hardy varieties are effective in the garden.

Paperwhites fall into three groups:

  • frost-tender varieties used for forcing indoors
  • early-blooming garden performers that also force well and do well planted outside. These are among the most persistent heirloom bulbs in the South and offer the only truly dependable narcissi for the desert Southwest.
  • later bloomers less suitable for forcing. These include some of the hardiest types, which survive to USDA Zone 4 or 5. They do best with lifting and dividing every three to five years.

Indoor Forcing

Forcing paperwhites is child’s play for adults, and a certain hit with children who show an interest in growing things. They do not require a chilling period nor much patience before they make good on their promise of glistening flowers before the New Year. Nestle the bulbs back to back in a bed of pebbles, marbles, or coarse sand and set the container in a saucer of water. In the Deep South, forcing in sand or soil with an inch covering the bulbs’ noses deters a tendency to flop.

Outdoor Planting

Garden paperwhites need an inch or two of soil above their bulbs in Zones 8 through 10, four to six inches in Zones 4/5 through 7. Space them three to four inches apart. Silver-leaved plants and fine-textured evergreen shrubs, such as boxwood or yew, show off the pristine flowers. Daylilies, crinums, large cranesbills, and grasses with flowing habits help disguise the withering foliage in the spring. Paperwhites are generally unbothered by disease, deer, rodents, and other pests.

Care Tips

  • Inside, force in bright light and cool temperatures
  • Outside, plant in full sun in any soil type
  • Site in a southern exposure in colder climates
  • Provide moisture mid-fall to mid-spring
  • Dig or move just after foliage yellows

Cultivars to Grow

For forcing:

  • Narcissus papyraceus ‘Ziva’ (white petals around a white cup, musky fragrance); N. tazetta ssp. lactiflorus (white petals, gold cup; sweet fragrance); N. aureus ‘Grand Soleil D’Or’ (yellow petals, orange cup; sweet fragrance).

For forcing or early garden bloom:

  • garden forms and hybrids of Narcissus tazetta, N. papyraceus, and N. aureus, including ‘Grand Primo’ (white petals, ivory cup, musky fragrance, Zones 5–10); ‘Cragford’ (white petals, orange cup, sweet scent, Zones 4–10); ‘Martinette’ (yellow petals, orange cup, sweet scent, Zones 5–10).

For later garden bloom:

  • Garden forms and hybrids of Narcissus tazetta , including ‘Avalanche’ (white petals, yellow cup, sweet scent, Zones 5–10); ‘Geranium’ (white petals, orange cup, sweet scent, Zones 5–10); ‘Yellow Cheerfulness’ (yellow petals, gold cup, musky scent, Zones 4–10).