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Growing Paperwhites That Won’t Flop Over

Category: How-To Projects, Plant Ideas & Info, Presenting "The Curious Gardener"

Dorian Winslow

womanswork presents dorian winslow's

the curious gardener

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paperwhites3We first published this article in 2013, and we have been republishing it every year since!

A problem with paperwhites, as with many bulbs planted in pots, is that they grow quite tall and all of their weight is at the top.

This information is reprinted from the about.com website. I have tried it and it works.

paperwhitesResearchers 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 ½ their normally expected growth – but the flowers remain normal size and last just as long.

Why they thought of giving their paperwhites a nip, I don’t know. But it appears that the resulting water stress on the plants is just enough to stunt their growth, but not interfere otherwise.

How to Stunt Paperwhites with Alcohol

  1. Pot your paperwhites in stones and water, as you normally would.
  2. Once the roots begin growing and the green shoot on top reaches about 1-2″, pour off the existing water.
  3. Replace the water with a solution of 4 – 6% alcohol, as described below.
  4. Continue to use the alcohol solution for future watering.

You should see results in a few days.

How to Make the Alcohol Watering Solution

  • The alcohol content needs to be less than 10%, or your plants will overdose and severe growth problems will occur. Many liquors are only labeled as “proof”, not percentage of alcohol. Don’t confuse the two. To determine what percentage alcohol you have, divide the proof in half, So an 86 proof bourbon is 43% alcohol.
  • You can use any hard liquor (vodka, tequila, whiskey…) or rubbing alcohol. Don’t use wine or beer because they are too high in sugar.
  • Check the bottle for the percentage alcohol.
  • You will have to do some math to get the different concentrations of alcohol down to 4-6%.To convert your booze to 5% alcohol, just divide the percentage alcohol by 5 and then subtract 1. That will tell you how many parts water to mix with your 1 part alcohol. Ex: 40 divided by 5 = 8: 8 minus 1 = 7… 7 parts water to 1 part alcohol.Or simply use this chart:

    Convert Existing Alcohol to a 5% Solution for Watering

    10% Alcohol = 1 Part Water to 1 Part Alcohol
    15% Alcohol = 2 Parts Water to 1 Part Alcohol
    20% Alcohol = 3 Parts Water to 1 Part Alcohol
    25% Alcohol = 4 Parts Water to 1 Part Alcohol
    30% Alcohol = 5 Parts Water to 1 Part Alcohol
    35% Alcohol = 6 Parts Water to 1 Part Alcohol
    40% Alcohol = 7 Parts Water to 1 Part Alcohol

And so on.

15 thoughts on “Growing Paperwhites That Won’t Flop Over

  1. Wow! This sooooo cool! I’m not a drinker, and I’ve never heard of a better use of booze, ever! I love it.
    Thanks so much; I’ll never have floppy paperwhites again.

  2. Hi Liz,
    I have never tried doing this with amaryllis, but take a shot at it! I don’t see why it wouldn’t work. You may be growing the amaryllis too warm. They grow very fast with weak stems if too warm and with too little light.

  3. Can you use 70 percent isopropyl rubbing alcohol and if so what would be the amount of water and alcohol ?

    Thanks

  4. Are you gals Unitarian Universalists? I am and always enjoyed that Max Coots poem which, happily, is usually quoted from the pulpit each Thanksgiving.

  5. Pam, if you give them the right dilution of alcohol they will live and bloom beautifully, but won’t be as tall as they otherwise would be, which is the goal. Paperwhites don’t usually bloom again, so we put them in the compost pile after they finish blooming.

  6. Margaret, it is a wonderful poem that brings tears to my eyes when I read it. I first heard it at a garden club meeting where it was delivered at the opening of the meeting.

  7. I think you have your % backwards. More parts water means lower percent alcohol. Still an interesting possibility to grow paperwhites.

  8. Vanessa Castleberry, the goal is to get to 5% alcohol, so the higher the concentration of alcohol in your liquor, the more water you need to add to dilute it. The formulas are correct.

  9. Kristen, yes that is what I get also. 13 parts water to 1 part rubbing alcohol (which has 70% alcohol content).

  10. My Dad passed away in April this year and Mr Coots poem was perfect to share with my family on Thanksgiving!! Thank you for sharing..

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