Blog Description

A French-Inspired Garden and Home by Judith Stringham

Z is for Ziva Paperwhites

Saturday, December 23, 2023

Just as certain recipes evoke memories of Christmas, specific flowers immediately bring Christmas to mind, also. Z is for Ziva Paperwhites is the final post in the series of Christmas traditions from A to Z since it's not Christmas at my house without paperwhites in bloom.   

is for Ziva Paperwhites.

Each year as I make plans for celebrating Christmas, I order Ziva Paperwhite bulbs to force into bloom in time for decorating for Christmas. The bulbs must be planted six weeks before the plant blooms. 

Therefore, it is too late to plant paperwhite blooms for this Christmas, but not too late to enjoy seeing paperwhites used in Christmas decorations. 

Paperwhites, narcissi, jonquils, and daffodils are all names used interchangeably to identify the same blooming bulb by most people. Narcissus is the genus for all of these flowers, and daffodil is the official common name for any bulb in the narcissus genus. 

Not all narcissi are paperwhites, but all paperwhites are narcissi / daffodils. Paperwhites are tender daffodils, winter hardy only in zones 8-11. As such, paperwhites are excellent bulbs for growing inside in the winter as a 'forced' bulb, blooming during the Christmas season. 

In north Texas, small potted evergreens, tree-shaped rosemary plants, ivy topiaries, and forced paperwhites are all used for the Christmas holidays. 

Ziva paperwhites are plentiful and easily found in bulb catalogs. My favorite way of forcing paperwhites into bloom for Christmas is to plant 2-3 bulbs in pea gravel in a pot, add water just to the bottom of the bulbs, and cover the pea gravel with preserved moss. 

A 17+ cm bulb is shown on the left. A 15/16cm bulb is shown on the right. Notice the larger bulb has more than one stem emerging, the stems are larger than the one on the right, and a flower bud is already emerging. 

Bulbs are categorized by size. Most local garden centers stock 15/16 cm sized daffodil bulbs, suitable for growing in the outdoors. I recommend 17+ cm Ziva paperwhite bulbs for forcing into bloom in pots inside. The larger bulbs will have more stems and flowers than the smaller bulbs. Catalogs are the best sources for finding first quality 17+ cm paperwhite bulbs. 

There are three bulbs in this pot with five blooms visible. The bloom heads all have several florets. Four of the blooms' florets have not all opened yet which means the flowers will last for several more days. The translucent glass container allows you to see the bulbs and roots in the pea gravel making it easy to know the water level. The water level should not cover the bulbs, but come just to the bottom of the bulbs. Water needs to be added throughout the growing period of the bulbs to keep the level just at the bottom of the bulbs.

Two things cause some people not to enjoy blooming paperwhites inside. First, the scent can be strong which some people dislike. The second issue is the stems often grow tall and fall over from the weight of the top-heavy blooms. A ribbon tied around the stems helps stabilize the flowers and prevents them from falling over.

As for the strong scent, recent beautiful artificial paperwhite bulbs that look real enough to fool people offer gorgeous paperwhites. Both issues of an unpleasant scent and blooms that fall over are solved with artificial blooms. 

Another advantage of realistic artificial paperwhites is they do not die. Arrangements for Christmas can be used all the way into spring. 

If you want to force paperwhites for your Christmas decorations next year, add a note to your cellphone calendar to order paperwhite bulbs in September. Bulbs are shipped based on the location the bulbs will be planted. If you order bulbs for forcing, be sure to let your bulb company know you plan to force the bulbs. That alerts the company to ship your bulbs accordingly, not when outside bulbs are planted in your zone. 


Christmas traditions that include a large range of reasons for following the traditions make our holidays more meaningful and joyous. Traditional activities, music, recipes, flowers, books, and decorations offer joy, love, laughter, comfort, nostalgia, and sparkle to our lives during the most wonderful time of the year! We create memories with our friends, family, and even strangers that bind us together and build connections to our past, present, and future. 

May this season of goodwill, hope, and love envelop you as you honor old traditions and forge new ones.