I love to grow paperwhite narcissus bulbs to give as gifts this time of year, and to fill my house with their fragrance and flowers during the holidays. Simply placed in a shallow bowl with some stone or gravel, or planted in a bit of soil, paperwhite bulbs root almost immediately and will put out fragrant flowers within two to three weeks. The problem is that they usually grow so tall that they eventually flop over, and staking them in a shallow bowl with small stones can be difficult if not impossible.
But recently a friend offered me an unusual solution that came to her via the Flowerbulb Research Program at Cornell University. Their research has found that watering paperwhites with a bit of diluted alcohol mixed with water stunts the stem and leaf growth and precludes the flopping over that occurs so often.
The secret is to water the bulbs as usual when first planted, allowing about a week for them to begin to root. When shoots are green and growing 1-2” above the top of the bulb, change the solution to a mixture of one part liquor (gin, vodka, whiskey, rum or tequila) to seven parts water. It’s that simple! The resulting plants will be about a third shorter, but the flowers will be as big, fragrant and long-lasting as ever. Resume with just water after flowering.
For a great step-by-step planting guide: