My annual post on Paperwhites ... here it is again, for anyone who missed it in the past. It takes four to six weeks or thereabouts for paperwhites to bloom, so get them started for Christmas.
Somel years ago, researchers at Cornell University's Flowerbulb Research Program discovered that the addition of gin will stunt the growth of paperwhites and prevent them from that annoying habit of getting too top heavy and flopping over. According to Professor of Horticulture William B. Miller, here's the recipe:
Plant paperwhite bulbs in stones, gravel or whatever else as usual. Add water, wait until the roots begin to grow, and when the green shoots above the bulb reach 1-2" in height, pour off the water and add an alcohol solution made from gin or almost any other hard liquor, including vodka, tequila, rum, or whiskey. The solution should be one part hard liquor to 7 parts of water.
The result: paperwhites that are one-third shorter, but just as fragrant and floriferous as usual.
Miller warns against using beer or wine because the sugars in them will cause a lot of problems. The higher the alcohol concentration (within reason), he says, the shorter the plants, but don't use a concentration higher than 10 percent. Rubbing alcohol can also be used to the same effect, but use one part alcohol to 10 or 11 parts water.
Miller says he and his researchers are not sure why the alcohol stunts growth, but he says "we feel it is simply 'water stress,' where the alcohol makes it more difficult for the plant to absorb water...enough to reduce leaf and stem growth, but not enough to affect flower size or flower longevity."
The Cornell website was passed on to me by my good friend Louise Crane, who saw an article about it in the New York Times.
And make sure to order your paperwhites from Brent and Becky's Bulbs ... they have a terrific selection of paperwhites, not to mention the rest of their huge bulb collection. I've been ordering from them for years, and have yet to see better quality from anyone else.
(image: Brent & Becky's Bulbs)