Paper whites (Narcissus papyraceus, a sub-species of Narcissus tazetta) are popular indoor plants for winter and the holiday season. Unlike other narcissus, paper whites don't require a chilling period, so forcing them is as easy as putting the bulbs in water and waiting. The fragrant flowers bloom within about 3 weeks of planting, for almost instant gratification.
How to Force Paper Whites
Paper whites are the original “Just Add Water” plant. While paperwhite bulbs can be planted in soil, more commonly they are grown in pots or dishes with some stones or marbles to anchor them in place and a little water.
- Select a container that is about 3 - 4 inches deep (8 - 10 cm) and that has no drainage holes.
- Spread an inch or 2 of stones, marbles or even gravel, along the bottom of the container.
- Position your paper white bulbs, pointed end up, on top of the stone layer. Go ahead and squeeze them in. They not only look better in a large group, the tight fit will help keep them from toppling over.
- Add another layer of stones to fill in any gaps and cover the bulbs up to their shoulders. The pointed tips should still be showing.
- Add water so that the level just reaches the base of the bulbs. Allowing the bottom of the bulb to sit in water will stimulate growth. Covering the entire bulb with water could cause it to rot.
- The bulbs don’t need light at this point and they prefer to be kept on the cool side, at about 65 degrees F (18 degrees C.)
- Check your bulbs daily to see if they need more water.
- When you see roots developing, move the container to a sunny window. The sunnier the better, but try not to let them get too warm or they’ll grow leggy.
- Once the plants flower, they will last longer if moved out of direct sunlight, to a cool spot with indirect or diffused light.
You can start pots of paper whites every couple of weeks, for a continuous display throughout the winter.
How to Stunt Paperwhites with Alcohol
- Pot your paperwhites in stones and water, as you normally would.
- Once the roots begin growing and the green shoot on top reaches about 1-2", pour off the existing water.
- Replace the water with a solution of 4 - 6% alcohol, as described below.
- Continue to use the alcohol solution for future watering.
You should see results in a few days.
How to Make the Alcohol Watering Solution
- The alcohol content needs to be less than 10%, or your plants will overdose and severe growth problems will occur. Many liquors are only labeled as "proof", not percentage of alcohol. Don’t confuse the two. To determine what percentage alcohol you have, divide the proof in half, So an 86 proof bourbon is 43% alcohol.
- You can use any hard liquor (vodka, tequila, whiskey...) or rubbing alcohol. Don’t use wine or beer because they are too high in sugar.
- Check the bottle for the percentage alcohol.
- You will have to do some math to get the different concentrations of alcohol down to 4-6%.
To convert your booze to 5% alcohol, just 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. Ex: 40 divided by 5 = 8: 8 minus 1 = 7... 7 parts water to 1 part alcohol.
Or simply use this chart:
Convert Existing Alcohol to a 5% Solution for Watering
10% Alcohol = 1 Part Water to 1 Part Alcohol
15% Alcohol = 2 Parts Water to 1 Part Alcohol
20% Alcohol = 3 Parts Water to 1 Part Alcohol
25% Alcohol = 4 Parts Water to 1 Part Alcohol
30% Alcohol = 5 Parts Water to 1 Part Alcohol
35% Alcohol = 6 Parts Water to 1 Part Alcohol
40% Alcohol = 7 Parts Water to 1 Part Alcohol
And so on.