Tuesday’s Tips — Forcing Paperwhites

I’ve been so busy getting ready for company next week that my days are a blur of sanding, painting, installing, etc. Of course, gardening is part of the preparations and I’m doing a bit of planting both outdoors and indoors.

I love the way paperwhites (Narcissus tazetta) look, but not the fragrance so I haven’t forced any of these bulbs in many, many years. But I was seduced by some really healthy looking bulbs when I was at Roger’s Gardens a few days ago. Roger’s is one of the premier nurseries in our area—or any area for that matter — and a very dangerous place to go with a few dollars in my pocket. Needless to say I spent a little more than I planned on spending, i.e. buying some of those bulbs.

I gathered some glass containers and put the bulbs in with some glass pebbles and water. A few days later they looked like this:

But then I got to thinking that maybe I should do a little research because, who knows, someone may have found a better way to do it in the intervening years. Lo and behold, someone has found a better way to force the bulbs. Specifically to deal with paperwhite’s propensity to grow so tall that they topple over. That means that I would have had to figure out a way to support the stems pretty soon, but with this newish technique I won’t have to bother with all that. Here’s how.

It’s very simple really. Once the green shoots are a couple of inches long, pour out the water and replace it with a solution that is 1 part rubbing alcohol to 10 or 11 parts of water. You can also use any hard liquor (not beer or wine), but you’ll have to do some calculations based on the percentage of alcohol to get the proper mixture. For that info click on this link to Easy to Grow Bulbs and an article by William B. Miller, Professor of Horticulture and Director of the Flowerbulb Research Program at Cornell University cleverly entitled “Pickling Paperwhites.”

The result will be paperwhites that are about one third shorter that normal and less likely to tip over. According to Professor White they don’t know exactly why this is, but feel that it’s because the alcohol induces stress that prevents the plant from absorbing water as effectively as it normally would which limits the growth but not the flower production or longevity.

I replaced the water a couple of days ago and my plants still look great. So we’ll see. They’ll be beautiful I’m sure, I just hope that I don’t mind the smell as much as I used to.

4 thoughts on “Tuesday’s Tips — Forcing Paperwhites

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  1. Thanks for this. I am ordering 100 bulbs for my nieces wedding on St Patricks Day. I was worrying about that -if they’d be so tall that they flop over. That would be a disaster for my centerpieces. I have never smelled these but you are the first I’ve encountered on the web to say you DON’T like the scent.

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