How to Grow Paperwhites That Won’t Fall Over

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As the dark days of winter approach, having lush, beautiful indoor plants becomes more important in my daily life.

I feel better when I have plants to tend to.

Once the frost hits Northeastern Ohio, there isn’t much to do outside, but clean up and wait for spring.

However, inside, there are many opportunities to enjoy plants.

One of the easiest indoor flowering plants is paperwhites.

Paperwhite blossoms

They are a type of Narcissus bulb (related to a daffodil) that doesn’t need a cold period to bloom.

Therefore, they can be easily grown indoors and “forced” to bloom inside.

In addition to their beautiful blooms, paperwhites are known for their sweet fragrance.

They are so easy to grow, they don’t even need soil!

A simple container and decorative rocks are all you need to get started!

Follow these simple steps and you will have gorgeous blooms all winter!


When Do I Buy Paperwhites?

Garden centers and online retailers sell the bulbs in late fall and early winter.

The bulbs can be purchased in kits with a container or individually.

Ziva is a common variety available at most retailers.


Want to get your plants looking as good as the day you bought them?


What Do I Need to Plant Paperwhites?

The paperwhite’s flower and leaves are stored inside the bulb ready to emerge.

It doesn’t need any additional nutrients or soil.

A container that will hold decorative rocks and water is ideal.

The roots will grow around the rocks anchoring the plant.

Water will activate the bulbs to grow and develop the leaves and flower shoots.

Glass Containers for growing Paperwhites on light brown table in front of white shiplap
My favorite glass containers for growing paperwhites


Container Ideas:

Glass cylinder vase with 2 inches of white decorative stone on light brown table in front of white shiplap

Decorative Rock Ideas:

How to Plant Paperwhites

Add 1-2 inches of decorative stone to the bottom of the container.

Place the bulbs (pointed side up) on top of the stones.

The bulbs can be placed directly next to each other and even touching one another.

They do not need to be spaced apart.

Showing water level at base of paperwhite bulbs in glass with white stones

Add water to the bowl so that it is just at or below the surface of the base of the bulb.

The bulbs will sense the presence of the water and send out roots.

Never allow the water level to go above the base of the bulb or it will rot.

Paperwhites that are leggy and leaning

How to Keep Paperwhites from Falling Over

One of the drawbacks of growing paperwhites is that they can get quite tall and leggy.

However, Cornell University did a study that adding a 5% alcohol solution to the water will keep the plants one-third shorter.

This is a great discovery as it makes paperwhites such a more manageable houseplant and reduces or eliminates the need to stake the stems.

Once the roots emerge from the bulbs and there is an inch or two of green growth (usually about a week or so), gently empty the plain water from the container.

Mix a solution in a pitcher of 1 part of gin, vodka, tequila, whiskey, or rum that is 40% alcohol (80 proof). Add 7 parts of water.

This creates a 5% alcohol solution.

Add the mix to the bulb container just to the level that the roots can absorb it.

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The alcohol creates stress for the plants and makes it harder for them to absorb water.

Therefore, the leaves and stems don’t grow as tall, but it doesn’t affect the size or number of flowers.

Rubbing alcohol (isopropyl alcohol) also works.

Since it is 70% alcohol, the mixing proportions are one part rubbing alcohol to ten parts water to create a 5% alcohol solution.

Continue to replenish the bulbs with this alcohol mixture until the blooms open.

Note that beer and wine will not work and will actually cause damage to the bulbs.

Also, more alcohol is not better.

An alcohol solution greater than 10% is toxic to the plants.

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Planting Paperwhites For Succession of Blooms

Once planted, the paperwhites will begin blooming in 3-5 weeks.

The flowers will last for 3-6 weeks.

Consider planting a new container every 2-3 weeks so that you have a continual supply of fresh blooms all winter.

If you would like to have flowers in bloom for Christmas, plant no earlier than November 15 and no later than December 1.

Paperwhites make a great gift for gardeners and non-gardeners.

Note that the growth of the bulb can be expedited by putting it in a warm environment and conversely slowed when put in a cooler environment (60-65 degrees).

This can impact how quickly blooms appear and last.

Want to get your plants looking as good as the day you bought them?

What to Do When Paperwhite Flowers Fade

If you live in U.S. zones 8-10 the bulbs can be planted outside.

Otherwise, paperwhites aren’t cold-hardy and must be a houseplant.

It is a lengthy process to get them to bloom again.

Because they are relatively inexpensive, I recommend disposing of them and purchasing new bulbs each year.


Paperwhites are one of the easiest indoor flowering plants to grow.

They bring color and fragrance into a room during a time of the year when most houseplants are slowing in growth.

Using just a simple container, decorative rocks, and a little special cocktail mixture, you can grow paperwhites that will make a great holiday gift or a stunning addition to your indoor garden.

Pinterest Pin Photo of leggy Paperwhites with text overlay: How to Grow Paperwhites & How to Keep them from Getting Leggy

9 thoughts on “How to Grow Paperwhites That Won’t Fall Over”

  1. Can you cutback after it blooms to restart and also do the alcohol mixture too

    • Hi Maxine, it’s possible but challenging. Remove the spent flower stalks and leave the foliage until it dies back. Just treat it like a houseplant during this time. The bulbs will need a dormant period in a cold, dark area for a few months and then start the process again and hopefully, they will rebloom. I recommend planting them in soil if you plan to keep them, it’s easier. Best wishes! -Shannon

  2. I love the Paperwhites and buy them every year for Christmas. My trick is to stop watering them just as they start to bloom, they’ll still hold their shape and stay upright as they dry in place.

  3. Hi Shannon,
    Thanks for the advice on how to grow paperwhites. Is there another way of keeping the plants short without using mix cocktail of alcohol and water? if not treated with the alcohol mix how long do they grow?

    • Hi Misbah, Yes, another way is to keep the plants cool (air temperature) and as much bright light as possible. The goal is to have the plants grow slowly and compactly. This is challenging in a home environment especially in the winter when daylight levels are decreasing. However, for the dedicated gardener, it can be a fun challenge! If you live in a climate that gets a lot of natural light, it can work. It isn’t easy in northern climates right now! 🙂 Some paperwhite varieties can get 12 inches tall or more (again it depends on the stretching due to low light). Ziva is a variety that is a bit more compact. Take care! – Shannon

  4. Hi Shannon, great article.
    One question, though. I live in the tropics. What would you advise regarding growing paperwhites?
    Take care 💝

  5. Hey Shannon, As I recall these bulbs are also not too spendy, allowing it to be a nice anti-Covid doldrums gift for locked in friends and neighbors who, like me, are somewhat grower-challenged. 🙂 Thanks so much for your time!


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