Saturday, November 24, 2018

Prevent Floppy Paperwhites: Give Them a Stiff Drink by Carol King

Cornell University Bulb Experiment

Have you heard that drinking alcohol will stunt your growth?  Well this is certainly true with narcissus and amaryllis bulbs.

We bulb lovers love to force bulbs to bloom during the winter holidays.  They brighten an otherwise dark time in gardening. Narcissus (also known as paper whites) and amaryllis are notorious for getting tall and leggy and flopping over.  To combat this problem look no further than the liquor cabinet.

The Flower Bulb Research Program at Cornell University conducted experiments using various kinds of alcohol and discovered that plant height will be reduced by one third thus stopping the “flop over”. Alcohol interferes with water uptake, thus less cell stretching and shorter stems. Here are their recommendations:

“Start your bulbs in plain water. When roots have formed and the green shoot is 1 to 2 inches long, pour off the water and replace with a solution of 4 to 6 percent alcohol. If you are using 80 proof liquor (40 percent alcohol), that works out to one part gin (or the like) to 7 parts water.

Rubbing alcohol (either 70 or 100 percent isopropyl alcohol) can be substituted; just remember to dilute it more. Keep the beer and wine for yourself; their sugars damage plants.” 

Distilled spirits are watered down at a rate of 1 part to 7 parts water. Rubbing alcohol needs more dilution at a rate of 1 to 11.

So enjoy a glass of wine while you give the bulbs a good stiff drink of the hard stuff! Enjoy your beautiful shorter flowers.