Give Your Paperwhites an Alcoholic Drink

— Written By and last updated by Nancie Mandeville
en Español

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The fragrance and beauty of Paperwhite narcissus can be yours in a few weeks if you start now. Paperwhite bulbs can be bought loose or as part of a pre-packaged forcing kit.

To force these bulbs, place them pointed side up in a shallow container. A greater show will result if several bulbs are put in the container close together, but not touching. Fill in around the bulbs so they are covered to one-half their height, and water enough to keep stones or other media moist. Put the dish in a cool (50°-55°), dark room for about a week to encourage roots to develop. When green shoots appear, move the bulbs into a filtered sunlight location. Keep the temperatures cool (60°) during forcing. In about three weeks, fragrant clusters of white, cream, or yellow flowers will appear.

My own experience with forcing paperwhites is that it is easy to do, but the plants tend to stretch and flop over without some sort of support. I recently came across an article titled “Pickle Your Narcissus” that reported research conducted by Cornell University that showed alcohol can be used to reduce the growth of leaves and flower stems by at one-third to one-half without reducing the number or size of the flowers. You mix liquor such as gin, rum, tequila, vodka, or whiskey, to water to make a solution with a 4-6% concentration (that is about 1 part of a 40% liquor to 7 parts water). If you don’t have liquor, rubbing alcohol (isopropyl alcohol, 70%) will work just as well. Mix it at 1 part to 10-11 parts water. The research showed that the sugars in beer and wine cause problems with the bulbs, so should not be used.

To try this out yourself, start your bulbs using plain water and let them grow for about a week until the roots are starting to grow and the shoot is green and has grown 1-2” above the top of the bulb. At this point, drain the plain water off and replace with the alcohol solution and then use the alcohol solution for further watering. The result will be narcissus that does not require any staking or support but is still loaded with flowers.

Happy Holidays!