Happy hour — paperwhite style

I found this tip on a couple gardening blogs I follow and thought it was so neat I wanted to pass it along.

You’ve seen paperwhites (narcissus), right? Lots of people force the bulbs this time of year or buy those little kits next to the amaryllis bulb kits and poinsettias. I think they smell heavenly (though some people think they smell nauseating), but, like everyone else, I had a problem with them growing too tall and flopping over. You can tie them up, but they still tend to look messy.

Well it seems there’s a solution to this problem — an alcohol-water solution. If you start your bulbs in plain water, then dump that out when the shoots get to be a couple inches tall and replace it with a very diluted alcohol solution, your paperwhites will grow less tall without impacting their lovely blooms or scent.

Me, I like a dry and limey gin & tonic, but paperwhites apparently aren’t fussy — you can use any kind of liquor (gin, vodka, whiskey, tequila etc.) or rubbing alcohol (but not beer or wine — too much sugar).

Here’s a site that gives more details. Figuring out the exact proportion of alcohol to water to achieve a mixture that’s about 5% alcohol is a little tricky (at least it was for me) — pay attention to what it says about alcohol percentages (vs. proofs). After much times’in & gazinta’in, I’m trying a solution of 6½ cups water to ½ cup rubbing alcohol. (Remember, I’m a writer. Math is not my thing. I wouldn’t trust my formula — do the math yourself to be sure.)

Here’s how the paperwhites look today — I just dumped off the water and added the alcohol solution. I’ll keep watering with this solution as needed. Hopefully in a couple weeks I’ll be able to show you beautiful, but not floppy, paperwhites in full bloom.


Now, this kind of science experiment (where someone else has already done the hard work) is one I can get into. Cocktails, anyone?

I’ve taken more out of alcohol than
alcohol has taken out of me.
                                ~ Winston Churchill


  1. thesisterproject said,

    Friday, December 26, 2008 at 9:40 am

    Lovely. I just delivered (yesterday, Christmas) my 20th of these collections, all gifts, the only gift I gave this year, including in each what I now call the gin lecture. I think the lecture has become as much of the gift as the bulbs. Everyone laughs. All year I collect odd pots at yards sales and in November order 100 blubs. Affordable, unqiue and alcoholic. Perfect.

  2. WritingbyEar said,

    Friday, December 26, 2008 at 10:31 am

    I think it’s perfect too! I had a friend who used to give me paperwhites every year and I always loved them. Now I have a lovely antique pottery vase, with properly liquored-up bulbs in place, ready to deliver to my neighbor.

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