Can Your Paperwhites Be Saved?

January 14, 2016 | By | Comments (4)

Photo: Ralph Anderson

A faithful reader, Cathy, wants to know what she should do with her paperwhite narcissus. She writes, “I grew paperwhites in water for Christmas and they were beautiful. They are still in the tall vase with their leaves turning yellow. What can I do with them until I plant them outside this spring?”

Grumpy’s 110% Guaranteed Always Correct Answer: Paperwhite narcissus are almost exclusively grown as forced bulbs for the holidays. The reason is that they don’t need any winter chilling to bloom. Just stick the bulbs’ butts in water or moist soil and they’ll blossom indoors in a couple of weeks.

However, paperwhites aren’t very cold-hardy, making them a poor choice for most gardens. They won’t take winters colder than those in Zone 8. Even where Grumpy lives in Zone 8A in central Alabama, they’re marginal. They tend to bloom very early (January) and the inevitable winter freezes turn them to mush. They’re much better in the mild-winters areas of the Coastal South and Florida in Zone 9. In fact, they’re such reliable winter bloomers in Beaufort, South Carolina that people there call them “Beaufort snow.”

So……if you live in Zone 9, you can plant the bulbs outside after they finish blooming indoors, making sure not to cut off the foliage until it turns yellow. Elsewhere, chuck ’em. Buy new paperwhites next December.


  1. Stephanie

    A local discount store is selling their Van Zyverden paperwhite growing kits for 25¢ each! If I buy a bunch of kits and save them for planting until Christmas 2016, will the bulbs grow? Or do they dry out over time. Thanks!

    January 21, 2016 at 4:51 pm
  2. kathleen parker

    Why did my paper-whites grow so tall 2 ft. Are there different types, that grow short med or tall. Or am I doing something wrong, not to many flowers but lots of secondary leaves without the flower bud.

    January 15, 2016 at 2:40 am
  3. Janice

    Here in southern California they are in a shady north facing planter they are just coming up temps at night have been in the low 40s they are already 12 inches tall I guess mine are not too sensitive.

    January 14, 2016 at 10:54 pm
  4. Janine W

    I live near Little Rock, Ar and 3 Septembers ago, I planted 30 bulbs on the western facing front of my house. I thought I was planting spring bulbs, but 2 weeks later they were growing lol Each year I have beautiful paperwhites from December thru January! Just dumb luck I guess 🙂

    January 14, 2016 at 11:10 am

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