Paperwhites for Christmas

What’s Christmas without Paperwhites!? These cheery mini daffodils are among the most popular indoor plants for the holidays.

Growing Paperwhites for Christmas is an easy and reliable winter gardening project. Paperwhite bulbs are generally planted around Thanksgiving so they bloom at Christmastime. Paperwhites can be planted in potting mix or in water alone.

Read on to learn all about Paperwhites for Christmas!

Paperwhites for christmas - christmas plant ideas

Paperwhites for Christmas: The basics

Paperwhites are flowering bulbs that are commonly grown indoors around Christmastime. The Paperwhite flower, Narcissus papyraceus, is used in holiday decor due to its pretty green foliage and pure white flowers. Along with Poinsettia and Amaryllis, Paperwhites are among the few Christmas plants that flower during the holiday season.

Paperwhites grow naturally in sunny dry areas in the Mediterranean, typically blooming in the spring. To coax them to bloom early (in the winter), Paperwhite bulbs are “forced” by placing them in water and warm temperatures before they would naturally be exposed to such conditions outdoors.

Paperwhites for christmas

When to plant Paperwhites for Christmas?

Paperwhites for Christmas are generally planted around Thanksgiving. By planting the bulbs in mid-late November, the bulbs have a couple of weeks to sprout, a couple of weeks to grow their stems and leaves, and a couple of weeks to bloom. Some gardeners plant only one batch (generally around Thanksgiving), but others like to plant a new batch of Paperwhite bulbs every week or two throughout the fall and early winter to ensure a continuous display of blooms.

For Paperwhites, the time between planting the bulb and the flowers actually blooming is affected by several different factors. One important factor is storage. Paperwhite bulbs that have been in storage for many months tend to bloom quite quickly, while those with a shorter dormant period tend to take longer to bloom after planting. In general, Paperwhites planted in October tend to take 6-8 weeks to bloom while bulbs planted in February may take less than 4 weeks to bloom after planting.

Another important factor is the growing environment. Paperwhite bulbs that do not have contact with water will sprout very slowly. Growing plants that are starved for light or water will also have growth slowed. Lastly, temperature plays an important role, with warmer temperatures leading to plants that grow more quickly.

“Timing paperwhite bulbs for Christmas or New Year’s depends on the temperature of your growing medium, but generally speaking, bulbs will bloom 4 or 5 weeks after planting. Thanksgiving weekend is my traditional time to plant paperwhites at home to get Christmas flowers.”

Mastering the Art of Flower Gardening: A Gardener’s Guide to Growing Flowers, from Today’s Favorites to Unusual Varieties, by Matt Mattus
Planting paperwhite bulbs for christmas time

How to plant Paperwhites for Christmas?

Christmas Paperwhites can be planted in potting mix or in a vase with water. Both methods are quite easy and reliable for beginner gardeners.

To plant the bulbs in potting mix, moisten the potting mix before planting. Find a container with drainage holes and fill the bottom up with potting mix, leaving about 2″ of space at the top. Place the bulbs on the potting mix with the pointy end up. Surround the bulbs with more potting soil around the sides, burying the bulbs just to the top of each one so the tip pokes through the soil surface. Water the planter afterward and check to make sure excess water is draining out well.

Read more details about planting Paperwhite bulbs

To plant Christmas Paperwhites in water, use either a bulb vase or a normal vase with some pebbles in the bottom. Fill up the bulb vase reservoir with water to the narrowest point. For normal vases, put about 2″ of pebbles into the bottom and then fill up the vase with water so it is level with the top of the pebbles. The pebbles will hold the bulb up above the water so the bulb does not sit in water and rot. Only the very base of the Paperwhite bulb should be touching the water surface. Once the bulb starts growing roots downwards, the water level can be lowered to just below the bulb.

Read more about how to plant Paperwhites in water

Forcing paperwhite flowers over the holidays

Caring for Christmas Paperwhites

Christmas Paperwhites are generally placed in a cool location out of direct sunlight to sprout. A little cooler than room temperature is ideal, but the bulbs should not be close to freezing. The range of 50°-60°F (10°-16°C) for the first week or two while the bulbs sprout, but it is also quite ok to sprout them at room temperature.

After the stems are visibly growing and roots are also developing, move the growing Paperwhite plants to the sunniest window in the house or under a bright plant light. Room temperature is perfect, although keeping them a little on the cooler side tends to lead to stronger stems. Temperatures of 60°-65°F (16°-18°C) are ideal for growing strong Paperwhites, but the plants should not be too leggy as long as the plants are kept below 70°F (21°C).

How to make Paperwhite flowers last longer?

Paperwhite flowers tend to last for a week or two on the plant. The flowers last longer if the plants are removed from direct sunlight when the flower buds start to open. Flowers also tend to last longer when the plants are kept at temperatures slightly below room temperature.

Caring for forced paperwhite plants indoors during the holidays

What to do with Paperwhites after Christmas?

Most gardeners dispose of their Paperwhites after Christmas. Paperwhite bulbs are quite weak after they bloom indoors. Filtered indoor light does not provide the sunlight levels required for the plants to photosynthesize enough stored energy to grow a flower bud inside the bulb for the next year.

Only gardeners that live in warm climates (Zones 8-11) generally keep Paperwhite bulbs. In these warm areas, the bulbs can be planted outdoors where they may survive over the winter as long as the ground does not freeze hard. While they can be planted in these areas, blooms should not be expected for a couple of years as the weakened bulbs will have to store up enough energy to produce flower buds inside the bulb.

Read about other plants you can grow for Christmas in this post.


When should I start my Paperwhites for Christmas?

To have flowering blooms for Christmas, you will need to plant your flowers around mid-November (Thanksgiving time).

Why are Paperwhites associated with Christmas?

Paperwhite flowers are commonly used in holiday decor due to their pretty green foliage and pure white flowers. They are also one of the few Christmas plants that flower during the holiday season.

How long do Paperwhites last indoors?

Paperwhite flowers will bloom for about 2-3 weeks, with the foliage lasting an additional few weeks.

How long do cut Paperwhites last?

Since Paperwhites have such a relatively short bloom time (2-3 weeks), and will only flower once, it is recommended to grow them in water or soil rather than display them as cut stems.



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Paperwhites are beautiful white flowers that bloom indoors in the winter… But they’re just one of the many beautiful houseplants we’ve written about! Click the box below for more articles.

Mary Jane Duford
Mary Jane Duford

Mary Jane Duford is a quintessential Canadian gardener. An engineer by trade, she tends to an ever-expanding collection of plants. In her world, laughter blooms as freely as her flowers, and every plant is raised with a dash of Canadian grit.

Mary Jane is a certified Master Gardener and also holds a Permaculture Design Certificate. She's also a proud mom of three, teaching her little sprouts the crucial difference between a garden friend and foe.

When she's not playing in the dirt, Mary Jane revels in her love for Taylor Swift, Gilmore Girls, ice hockey, and the surprisingly soothing sounds of bluegrass covers of classic hip-hop songs. She invites you to join her garden party, a place where you can share in the joy of growing and where every day is a new opportunity to find the perfect spot for yet another plant.

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