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Give That Bulb A Drink!

I have been getting many questions lately about last year’s post on using alcohol on forced bulbs. Since many of you need this information now, I am re-posting it here for all your reading pleasure…


If you want to learn the basics for forcing paperwhite bulbs, go to my other post HERE. But for many, the most common problem with forcing paperwhites is that they grow too quickly and flop over.

Here is the trick to preventing that: GIVE THEM ALCOHOL!

Paperwhites2Now in humans, a little alcohol will make them flop over and say silly things, but for bulbs, it stunts their growth and they DON’T flop over. Who would have thought? (I suppose alcohol could stunt our growth too, but we grow too slowly to notice.)

Researches at Cornell University discovered that by using a dilute solution of alcohol in the bulb water, the bulbs bloom as usual, but do not grow as tall. So, if you want to prevent flop-overs, just get your paperwhites all liquored up! (If you want to read the actual research paper, go HERE.)

Last year, I used alcohol in half my pots of paperwhites. It worked wonderfully! As you can see from the photo, the bulbs on the right (with alcohol) stayed a nice short size and bloomed normally. The bulbs on the left (just water – no alcohol) got very tall (and eventually flopped over).

I also used vodka with some bulbs and rubbing alcohol with others. I found that the vodka bulbs did the best. A few of the rubbing alcohol bulbs, got spots of yellow on the tips of the leaves which may have been my miscalculations in mixing the solution or perhaps they did not like the chemicals in the rubbing alcohol. The vodka bulbs looked normal.

Would I use the rubbing alcohol again? Yes, because it worked. I just had a few yellow tips. Nothing horrible.


Plant your paperwhites as described in my other post. Then when the bulbs start to grow and you have at least two inches of green shoots showing, pour out the water in the container and replace it with a solution of water and alcohol.

The solution needs to be about 5 % alcohol. A higher concentrations (10-20%) will kill the plants, so be careful.

Use this solution instead of plain water for any further watering of your container. You can use Isopropyl (rubbing alcohol) or distilled spirits such as gin, vodka or whiskey. (Yes, even the heavy duty stuff.)

How do you calculate 5%?

For Isopropyl alcohol (70%) , make a solution of one part alcohol to 10-11 parts water. For an 80 proof distilled spirit (40% alcohol) such as gin, you would add one part gin to seven parts water. Cheers!

Other tips:

If you already have paperwhites going and they are beginning to flop over, you can tie the drooping stems up. Add 2-3 stakes to the container and wrap raffia or ribbon around all the stems. Tie a festive bow.

Another way to prevent flop over is to keep the emerging bulbs out of bright light until they are at least 4 inches tall. It slows the growth a bit. But once they hit light (and if your house is very warm) they usually take off.

A final solution is to use tall clear-glass cylinder containers (like vases). That way if the paperwhites get too tall, they can’t flop over because they are held in place by the vase.

Have fun with your bulb forcing and leave comments on how this technique works for you. Come back and post pictures in the comments too! I want to see how this works for others. I had great success with it! Good luck!


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About the Author:

Theresa Loe is the founder of Living Homegrown® and the Canning Academy®. For 9 years, Theresa was the Co-Executive Producer & Canning Expert on the national PBS gardening series, Growing A Greener World®. Theresa homesteads on just 1/10th of an acre in Los Angeles with her husband, two sons and several disorderly but totally adorable chickens. Learn more about Living Homegrown here and about the Canning Academy here.