How to Stunt Paperwhites with Alcohol

How Alcohol Can Keep Narcissus from Falling Over

Paperwhite Flowers
RASimon / Getty Images

Paperwhites (Narcissus tazetta) are popular indoor plants for winter. Unlike other narcissus, paperwhites do not require a chilling period, so forcing them or stimulating them to grow out of season is as easy as putting the bulbs in water and waiting. The fragrant flowers bloom within about two to three weeks of planting for almost instant gratification.

Top-Heavy Paperwhites

A problem with paperwhites, as with many bulbs planted in pots, is that they grow quite tall and all of their weight is at the top. Researchers in the Flowerbulb Research Program at Cornell University have come up with an unusual solution to this top-heavy problem: alcohol.

It turns out that when paperwhite bulbs are grown in a dilute solution of alcohol, the plant's stem reaches a height of 1/3 to 1/2 of their normally expected growth, but the flowers remain normal size and last just as long.

Why the researchers thought of giving paperwhites a nip of alcohol remains a mystery, but it appears that the resulting water stress on the plants is just enough to stunt their growth, but not interfere otherwise.

How to Force and Stunt Your Paperwhites

The steps to force your paperwhites to grow out of season are the same as normal, however, you will need an alcohol solution. The solution recipe is listed below.

  1. Pot your paperwhites in stones and water as you normally would.
  2. Once the roots begin growing and the green shoot on the top reaches about 1 to 2 inches, pour off the existing water.
  3. Replace the water with a solution of 4 to 6 percent alcohol as described below. You should see results in a few days.
  4. Continue to use the alcohol solution for future watering.

Alcohol Solution Recipe

  • The alcohol content needs to be less than 10 percent, or your plants will overdose and severe growth problems will occur. Check the bottle for the percentage of alcohol. Many liquors are only labeled as "proof," not the percentage of alcohol. Do not confuse the two. To determine what percentage alcohol you have, divide the proof in half, For example, 86 proof bourbon is 43 percent alcohol.
  • You can use any hard liquor like vodka, tequila, or whiskey or rubbing alcohol. Do not use wine or beer because both are too high in sugar.

The Formula for Conversion of Alcohol Percentage

You will have to do some math to get the different concentrations of alcohol down to 4 to 6 percent. To convert your booze to 5 percent alcohol, divide the percentage alcohol by 5 and then subtract 1. That will tell you how many parts water to mix with your 1 part alcohol. For example, you have a bottle of 80 proof vodka, which means it is 40 percent alcohol. You divide 40 by 5, which gives you 8. Subtract 1 from 8, which give you 7. That means you need 7 parts water to 1 part alcohol.

Conversion Chart for 5 Percent Alcohol-Water Solution
10 Percent Alcohol 1 Part Water to 1 Part Alcohol 
15 Percent Alcohol 2 Parts Water to 1 Part Alcohol
20 Percent Alcohol 3 Parts Water to 1 Part Alcohol
25 Percent Alcohol 4 Parts Water to 1 Part Alcohol
30 Percent Alcohol 5 Parts Water to 1 Part Alcohol
35 Percent Alcohol 6 Parts Water to 1 Part Alcohol
40 Percent Alcohol 7 Parts Water to 1 Part Alcohol
Article Sources
The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Paperwhite Narcissus. University of Florida Website