Sturdier Paperwhites

Late November is the time to pot up paperwhite bulbs if you want them to bloom in time for the holidays. Here's the best method, plus how to keep their stems shorter so they won't flop over.
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Paperwhite 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.

paperwhite narcissus

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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