I love the scent of paperwhite narcissus during the holidays! Too bad the stems usually grow so tall they flop over in my container. Now there is an easy way to keep them shorter…and it involves alcohol!
A horticulture student at Cornell University, under the direction of the head of the Flower Bulb Research Program there, experimented with adding alcohol to the water used on paperwhite narcissus. Her hypothesis was whether alcohol might promote short, sturdy stems if you added just the right amount, because it could interfere with water uptake. Flowers would not be affected but less water pressure in the stem cells would result in less cell-stretching, so stems would be shorter.
They discovered that stems will end up roughly a third shorter than normal if you take the following steps!
> Start your bulbs in plain water. Most folks use clear containers filled with stones or marbles. Press bulbs, nose up, into the stones, with the tops sticking out. Leave half of the bulb above the stones.
> Fill container so that the bottoms of the bulbs are just touching the water.
> Keep at room temperature in a well-lighted area. After shoots emerge, keep out of the direct sun (otherwise the foliage will stretch toward the sun). When roots have formed and green stem shoots are 1 to 2 inches long, pour off the water and replace with a solution of 4 to 6 percent alcohol. If you are using 80 proof liquor (40 percent alcohol), that works out to one part vodka (or similar) to 7 parts water.
> Rubbing alcohol (70 percent isopropyl alcohol) can be substituted; just remember to dilute it more. Mix 13 parts water to 1 part rubbing alcohol.
> Don’t try beer and wine. They contain sugars that damage plants.
Lane T. tried this tip. She says: I tried the alcohol mixture on my paper white bulbs and it really works! I can’t believe it. They are starting to bloom now (in early Jan.) and have much sturdier and shorter stems–no staking needed. I used vodka one time and scotch another and the bulbs seem VERY happy. Maybe Pike Nursery should get a liquor license so they can sell a pint with their bulbs.