Sturdier Paperwhites

paperwhite narcissusPaperwhite narcissus are favorite bulbs to force into bloom indoors for the holiday season. They typically take 3 to 6 weeks to grow and bloom once they are potted up.

Unlike other bulbs, paperwhites do not need a chilling period to bloom. To plant them, line a container with stones, marbles or beads and simply nestle the bulbs into place among them. Add water and place the container in a bright, cool place.

Paperwhites have the tendency to flop over just as they come into bloom, making stakes or other supports necessary. However, if you can keep them from growing too tall, you can also make them sturdier. Here is the trick for shorter, sturdier paperwhites:

Once roots show and the bulb’s stem is an inch or 2 tall, replace the water with a solution of 1 part hard liquor to 7 parts water. If you’re a teetotaler—or don’t feel like sharing your Jack  with flower bulbs—you can use rubbing alcohol instead, but you will need to dilute it more. (Liquor is 40 percent alcohol; rubbing alcohol is 70 or 100 percent alcohol, and you’re aiming for a solution that’s 4 to 6 percent alcohol.) The sugars in beer and wine make them unacceptable choices to serve your paperwhites.

Use your alcohol solution anytime the liquid level in the container looks low. The result will be paperwhites with stems about a third shorter than they’d be without the booze. This method has been tested and proven sound by Cornell University.

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7 thoughts on “Sturdier Paperwhites

  1. Might I suggest that vodka, rather than whiskey, be used.
    I put together my solution this evening using some cheap whiskey that had been left-behind from a gathering at our home (40% – 1 cup whiskey, 7 cups water). The resulting smell is that of a hotel room the morning after it hosted the birthday part of a 21 year-old. I do hope this will dissipate and allow the flower to be enjoyed on all levels, not just from afar!

  2. I’d read this about 30 years ago in the “from Thornhill farm” column in House&Garden… “when the leaves are 4 inches tall, give them a shot of vodka.” It worked then and has ever since… now I’m glad to see someone has actually PROVEN it works.

    Just wish Paperwhite bulbs weren’t so horridly expensive!

    • I had a long email chat with the horticulturist at Cornell who did the research. He told me that windshieldwiper fluid, the kind you can buy for $2.49 a gallon, works just fine on paperwhites. No need to waste the vodka, no need to use rubbing alcohol, which is more than $2.49 a gallon. Dilute 1 to 8, I think the professor said. It worked like a charm! I am considering using it on hyacinths and hippeastrums, which both get really leggy, too.

    • I tried using rubbing alcohol as well, and had the same results as you. Using hard liquor is not an option as we have an alcohol-free home. I just use a tall clear vase to keep the paperwhites standing.

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