Friday, December 4, 2009

Pickling Your Paperwhites

The paperwhite narcissus is a popular bulb for indoor forcing in the winter months. Unlike most other daffodils, paperwhites do not require a cold period. They are simply planted in pots with soil, or even more commonly, in dishes or bowls with gravel, marbles or other decorative material. With a little water, they rapidly form roots, grow leaves and shoots. The white,fragrant flowers usually open up within 2-3 weeks of planting.

A common problem with paperwhites, however, is that they often grow too tall and fall over.

There is a simple and effective way to reduce stem and leaf growth of paperwhites. The "secret" is using dilute solutions of alcohol. Properly used, the result is paperwhites that are 1/3 to 1/2 shorter, with equal sized flowers that last as long as normal.

Place your bulbs in stones, gravel, marbles, glass beads, etc., as usual. Add water as you normally would, then wait about 1 week until roots are growing and the shoot is green and growing about 1-2" above the top of the bulb. At this point, pour off the water and replace it with solution of 4 to 6% alcohol, made from just about any "hard" liquor. You can do the calculations to figure the dilution but, as an example, to get a 5% solution from a 40% distilled spirit (e.g., gin, vodka, whiskey, rum, tequila), you add 1 part of the alcohol to 7 parts of water. This is an 8-fold dilution yielding 5% alcohol.

Then, simply use this solution, instead of water, for further watering of your bulbs. It's as simple as that!
The result will be a plant that is shorter, but with flowers, just as large, fragrant, and long-lasting as usual. The plant will be nicely proportioned and won't need support stakes, wires, or other gizmos to keep it upright.

*Do not use beer or wine, as the sugars in them will cause major problems with the plants.
*If you do not have alcohol in the house, rubbing alcohol (isopropyl alcohol) works just as well. A dilution of 1 part rubbing alcohol to 10 or 11 parts water is appropriate.

It is simply "water stress", where the alcohol makes it more difficult for the plant to absorb water. the plant suffers a slight lack of water, enough to reduce leaf and stem growth, but not enough to affect flower size or flower longevity.

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