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Gardening in the Rainy Zone.
A grouping of Narcissus tazetta bulbs are planted in a beautiful crystal bowl for the upcoming holidays.
A Narcissus 'Ziva' bulb is planted in a blue wine glass filled partially with glass pebbles. A row of these on a mantel would make splendid holiday decor.
Narcissus tazetta planted in a plain terra cotta pot for outdoor displays.
Spirits Make Plants Less Tipsy
by Debbie Teashon
We use the hard stuff--gin, rum, whiskey and tequila (with or without the worm)--for this project.
No, this article isn't about some new-age style therapy; this is about reducing the size of your paper whites (Narcissus tazetta), using alcohol to make them less tipsy. You read it right; using alcohol on your paper whites stunts their growth, making shorter stems that are stocky enough to support the flowers without flopping over. The alcohol does not affect the blossoms; they remain just as large and beautiful as their teetotalling counterparts do, while reducing the stems by one-half to one-third shorter.
We use the hard stuff—gin, rum, whiskey and tequila (with or without the worm)—for this project. Your lighter liquors, beer and wine, have sugars in them that will seriously harm your bulbs. However, if you are hard-up for hard liquor, you can use rubbing alcohol (isopropyl alcohol) instead. Don't indulge in it yourself, just let the plants imbibe it.
How It Works
Although the reason is unclear why alcohol stunts a plants growth, a Cornell University study is underway, conducted by William Miller a professor of horticulture. When asked how alcohol does this, Miller replied, "We don't know, but we're working on this. We think it simply might be water stress; that is, the alcohol makes it more difficult for the plant to absorb water, so 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."
Plant your paper-white bulbs as you normally do, in gravel, small pebbles, or marbles. Add water up to just below the bottom of the bulb; any higher and the bulb will rot sitting in water. Miller suggests you wait at least a week until the roots grow and the green shoots grow up about one to two inches above the bulb. Pour the water out and replace with water and enough liquor added to make a 4-6% alcohol solution. It's important not to go with higher alcohol percentages as it may overdose your plants and possibly kill them. Continue using this solution until your bulbs begin to flower.
For a 4-6% dilution, with a 40% alcohol found in most rum, gin and vodka, mix 1 part spirits to 7 parts water. For higher alcohol percentages, such as found in Everclear, do the math for the higher concentration of 95% alcohol, preferably before drinking it yourself or playing with matches.