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DIY: Get Your Paperwhites Drunk for Better Blooms

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DIY: Get Your Paperwhites Drunk for Better Blooms

December 18, 2012

With paperwhite season in full swing, it is important to remember a simple technique to keep your flowers from flopping over in their pot: get them soused. Here’s why (and how).

Photograph by John Merkl for Gardenista.
Above: Photograph by John Merkl for Gardenista.

Above: Armed with a few narcissus bulbs and a bottle of gin, researchers at Cornell University’s Flower Bulb Research Program proved a few years ago that adding alcohol (ethanol) to the water will stunt the growth of stems but not the blooms of paperwhites. Stems will be approximately one third shorter, preventing them from getting heavy and flopping over.

Photograph by Erin Boyle.
Above: Photograph by Erin Boyle.

Above: Here’s the technique: Plant bulbs in a pot of stones or gravel. Add water to a level that just reaches the bottom of the bulbs (don’t drown them–they’ll rot). After about a week, when the stem reaches a height of 2 inches, pour off the water and replace it with a mixture of hard liquor and water, adding 1 part liquor to 7 parts water. This will work equally well with gin, vodka, whiskey, rum or tequila. Continue to use this mixture to water the bulbs.

Photograph by Erin Boyle.
Above: Photograph by Erin Boyle.

Above: The reason it works, according to Prof. William Miller, is probably “water stress.” The alcohol makes it more difficult for the plant to absorb water, reducing growth of stems and leafs without adversely affecting the size or longevity of the plants’ flowers.

Finally, get more ideas on how to successfully plant, grow, and care for paperwhites with our Paperwhites: A Field Guide.

Interested in other bulbs and tubers for your garden or indoor space? Get more ideas on how to plant, grow, and care for various bulbs and tubers with our Bulbs & Tubers: A Field Guide.

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