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Paperwhites That Won't Flop Over

Updated on November 22, 2013

Perfect Paperwhite Recipe


1 oz. gin, whiskey, rum or other 80 proof alcoholic beverage

7 oz. water


Mix liquor and water. When paperwhites have developed 2-inch stems, replace the water in which they are growing with the alcohol mixture.

Picture Perfect Paperwhites

What's one of the prettiest ways to brighten your home this winter? Force bulbs like "Ziva" paperwhites (Narcissus tazetta) to bloom indoors.

And what's one of the biggest drawbacks to forcing bulbs inside the house? Leggy flowers that droop, teeter and (sometimes) tumble onto the floor!

If you've been frustrated in the past by gangly paperwhites that topple over no matter how firmly you stake them or tie them up, don't despair. This year, you can grow picture perfect paperwhites with shorter stems that won't flop. How? Give your bulbs a nip of whiskey, gin, rum, tequila or other hard liquor.

The Secret to Perfect Paperwhites

Yes, that old wive's tale is true: alcohol really does cause paperwhites (and other bulbs) to produce shorter stems. According to experiments conducted by researchers at Cornell University, paperwhites forced in spiked water produce stems that are about 1/3 shorter than they would be otherwise. The trick? Applying the alcohol in the correct amounts at the appropriate time.

Arrange paperwhites on rocks & water.
Arrange paperwhites on rocks & water. | Source
After roots have developed, the bulbs will start to sprout.
After roots have developed, the bulbs will start to sprout. | Source

How to Force Picture Perfect Paperwhites

Experiments led by Cornell University's Flower Bulb Research Program Director William Miller show that the ethanol (alcohol) in hard liquor reduces the amount of water that cells within a developing bulb's stem can take in. The result? Shorter cells—and shorter stems.

To use liquor and water to grow shorter, sturdier paperwhites, follow the steps below. The process takes the same amount of time that regular forcing takes—about three weeks.

Step 1

Plant bulbs in rocks & water.

Rather than force paperwhites in potting soil, arrange the bulbs (tip side up) in a container filled with clean rocks, and then add water. Fill the container until the water just touches the bottoms of the bulbs.

Step 2

Add water as needed.

There's no need to place paperwhites in the dark or to chill them. However, you should monitor them, adding water as necessary to maintain the appropriate level. Soon, roots will form, and eventually the paperwhite bulbs will begin to sprout.

Step 3

Replace water with liquor mixture.

When the bulb stems are about two inches tall, drain off the water and replace it with water laced with booze. The water should have an alcohol content of between 4 and 6 percent. If you're using gin that's 80 proof, for instance, you should mix approximately one part gin with approximately seven parts water.

Don't have any hard liquor on hand? No worries. You can use rubbing alcohol instead. Of course, if the alcohol content is greater than 80 proof, you'll have to dilute it more.

No Beer or Wine, Please!

Although hard liquor and rubbing alcohol mixed with water will produce paperwhites with pretty blooms and shortened stems, the same is not true of wine and beer. Both have a high sugar content which will interfere with the growth of your bulbs.

© 2011 Jill Spencer


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    • ValKaras profile image

      Val Karas 

      4 years ago from Canada

      I picked this hub at random to read, just to let you know how I am absolutely amazed with your knowledge and love for flowers! I am not growing any, but share your love and fascination for these creations of nature, often going to a park just to stand there and look at them, and even say "Hi" to them, making sure no one around is listening. Great hub!

    • The Dirt Farmer profile imageAUTHOR

      Jill Spencer 

      8 years ago from United States

      @livelonger--Crazy, huh? But it works. And it's great to have fresh blooming flowers in the house any time of year. Thanks for commenting, livelonger!

      @RTalloni--Glad to give you some weird news for party conversation! Have fun & thanks for stopping by!

    • livelonger profile image

      Jason Menayan 

      8 years ago from San Francisco

      Really interesting...I would have thought alcohol would just kill plants. Fascinating that it can give the blossoms some life!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Well that was interesting! :) I'm glad to have this info in my back pocket for more than one reason. If I ever try to force paperwhites, which I would like to do sometime, I now know this tip, but if the topic ever comes up in conversation I just may have the highlight of the discussion. Thanks!

    • The Dirt Farmer profile imageAUTHOR

      Jill Spencer 

      8 years ago from United States

      Hi, Derdriu. I'm hoping my paperwhites whites will bloom soon so that I can add a good photo of them. Thanks for commenting!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      The Dirt Farmer: What an informative, innovative, interesting summary of the alcoholic bases to perfect paperwhites!

      Thank you for sharing, etc.,


    • The Dirt Farmer profile imageAUTHOR

      Jill Spencer 

      8 years ago from United States

      Wild, huh? Thanks for commenting, Peggy. Hope it works for you.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      8 years ago from Houston, Texas

      What a fascinating hub! Would never have thought of using liquor or alcohol when forcing bulbs to grow! Will have to give it a try. Thanks!

    • The Dirt Farmer profile imageAUTHOR

      Jill Spencer 

      8 years ago from United States

      Awesome, formosangirl! Good luck to you--and thanks for commenting.

    • formosangirl profile image


      8 years ago from Los Angeles

      That is absolutely fascinating. My paperwhites toppled over. When I do buy paperwhite bulbs, I will try this method. Great hub!


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