Paperwhites, or paperwhite narcissus, provide flowers with a strong, sweet smell. They can be easily forced from bulbs during the winter months and are commonly found from December to March. Paperwhites experience few growing problems, diseases or pests, making them an easy bulb for novice gardeners. With careful selection and care, gardeners can avoid paperwhite problems.
Paperwhite bulbs can develop basal rot during shipping or storage caused by the fungus Fusarium. If you encounter bulbs that are brown and mushy rather than firm and white, your bulbs have basal rot. Purchase bulbs from a local nursery rather than online and choose only bulbs that are firm to the touch and pale in color.
Paperwhites are fast growers sometimes gaining 2 inches per day. When the bulbs are grown in warm environments, the new growth can become quite leggy, leading to flowering plants that cannot support themselves without being staked. Begin your bulbs in a cool room and leave them in a cool room until they have 2 inches of growth, them remove to a warmer location. Alternately, bulbs grown in a mixture of alcohol and water will grow up to 1/3 less tall than those grown in water, resulting in no leggy stems. Cornell University suggests using one part gin to seven parts water.
Paperwhite bulbs can contract rot once planted if given too much water, according to Purdue University. When gardeners grow paperwhites in gravel with standing water, as is the common practice, the roots need to maintain contact with water, but the bulb does not. Letting the bulb sit in standing water may lead to rot. To circumvent this problem, maintain the water level so only the roots are wet, topping off the water level daily if necessary.
Paperwhites not receiving adequate light will grow weak and spindly. The stems won't be able to support the weight of the flowers and will fall over. Place the paperwhite in a bright location or supplement low light situations with artificial light.