Paperwhites (Narcissus tazetta) are popular indoor plants for winter. Unlike other narcissus which are also known as daffodils, paperwhites don't require a chilling period, so forcing them is as easy as putting the bulbs in water and waiting. The fragrant flowers bloom within about two to three weeks of planting, for almost instant gratification.
A problem with paperwhites, as with many bulbs planted in pots, is they grow quite tall and all of their weight is at the top. Researchers in the Flowerbulb Research Program at Cornell University have come up with an unusual solution to this top heavy problem: alcohol.
When paperwhite bulbs are grown in a dilute solution of alcohol, the plants reach a height of 1/3 to 1/2 their normally expected growth - but the flowers remain normal size and last just as long.
To stunt your paperwhites with alcohol, simply pot your paperwhites as you normally would in stones and water. Once the roots begin growing and the green shoot on top reaches about 1-2 inches in height, pour off the existing water. Then replace the water with a solution of 5 percent alcohol. Continue to use the alcohol solution for all future waterings.
When making an alcohol solution, use any hard liquor such as vodka. Rubbing alcohol can also be used. Beer and wine have too much sugar and should be avoided. After selecting your alcohol, determine the percent of alcohol. Most liquors are labeled as proof. To get the percentage simply divide the proof in half. A 86 proof bourbon, for example, would be 43 percent alcohol.
To get the alcohol content down to 5 percent, just divide the percentage of alcohol by 5 and then subtract 1. That will tell you how many parts water to mix with your 1 part alcohol. For example, a 40 percent alcohol divided by 5 is 8. Subtract one and your get 7. So, for every seven tablespoons of water your need to have one tablespoon of alcohol to get a solution of 5 percent.
Whatever you do, if you try this growing method, make sure your solution is no more than 10 percent alcohol. If it is greater than 10 percent, your plants will overdose and severe growth problems will occur. Also, make sure pets and young children cannot get into the solution! Then enjoy your shorter and sturdier paperwhites!
Anne Lenox Barlow has had experience in the agricultural field as a horticulture educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension in Clinton County. She can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.