Learn / Ask The Landscape Professional
My mother always forced paperwhite narcissus bulbs to grow indoors for fall/winter enjoyment, but I remember that they grew tall and fell over. I recently heard that alcohol can be used to stunt their growth. Is that worth a try? Carol
It sure is. About ten years ago, William
Miller, a horticulturist at Cornell
University, began experiments with using
alcohol to "water" paperwhite narcissus
bulbs. He found that paperwhites watered
with a 4-6% solution of alcohol were one-half
to one-third the size of a full size plant,
but equally beautiful and fragrant. It is not
really understood why this happens, but probably
has to do with the plant having to devote
more of its energy to getting access to the
water that is in the alcohol solution.
Nevertheless, you can easily get the same result
at home. The key is to use a 4-6% solution of
alcohol in water. Outside this range, you will
not be successful (significantly outside of
this range, you will kill the plant). Don't
use beer or wine, but otherwise any alcohol will
work - vodka, gin, whiskey, tequila, etc. Rubbing
alcohol works too. Look at the label on the bottle.
Let's say you use whiskey that is 40% ABV (alcohol
by volume). You want to end up with about a 5%
solution, so you'll mix 1 part whiskey with 7
parts water. See the information below.
Starting with 10% alcohol ABV, mix 1 part water + 1 part alcohol = 5% alcohol solution
Starting with 15% alcohol ABV, mix 2 parts water + 1 part alcohol = 5% alcohol solution
Starting with 20% alcohol ABV, mix 3 parts water + 1 part alcohol = 5% alcohol solution
Starting with 25% alcohol ABV, mix 4 parts water + 1 part alcohol = 5% alcohol solution
Starting with 30% alcohol ABV, mix 5 parts water + 1 part alcohol = 5% alcohol solution
To start, plant your paperwhite bulbs in gravel
or marbles and soak with water. When the roots start
to form in 1-2 weeks, replace the water with your
4-6% solution of alcohol and water. Use your alcohol
solution for all further watering of your bulbs.
That's all there is to it!
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About Linda Lillie
Linda K. Lillie is the President of Sprigs & Twigs, Inc, the premier
landscape design and maintenance, tree care, lawn care, stonework, and carpentry
service provider in southeastern Connecticut since 1997. She is a graduate of
Connecticut College in Botany, a Connecticut Master Gardener and a national
award winning landscape designer for her landscape design and landscape installation work.