If you’ve ever grown paperwhites and had them grow too tall for their own good, this trick is for you!
This is an easy way to keep your paperwhites from becoming top-heavy, tipping over, and basically looking a mess.
Paperwhites usually grow between 12 and 18 inches tall, but that’s often tall enough that they bend, tip, and droop from the pot. Instead of those pretty, green, stately masses of strong green stems topped with pretty, white seasonal flowers, you end up with flowers on stems that tip, bend, break, and fall over.
They leave your anticipated holiday display looking limp and pathetic instead of pretty and decorative.
There’s an easy way to stop this from happening—and it isn’t any harder than watering your plants (and you’re doing that anyway, right?)
- The Watering Hack That Stops Paperwhites from Bending and Falling Over
- What If You Don’t Keep Drinking Alcohol Around?
- How Much Shorter Will Boozy Paperwhites Grow?
- Will Alcohol in the Water Stunt Paperwhite Flower Growth?
- Basic Growing and Watering Tips for Paperwhites
- Have Some Fun and Experiment with Your Boozy Paperwhites!
The Watering Hack That Stops Paperwhites from Bending and Falling Over
This watering hack was researched and developed by flower growers at Cornell University. It’s a neat little trick that helps you grow nicer pots of paperwhites—upright, standing tall, and blooming pretty!
Here’s how it’s done:
- At planting time and for the first week, water your paperwhites as you normally would—with regular, plain water
- Once the bulb is rooted, start watering your paperwhite bulbs with a mixture of water and alcohol
- This is about when your bulb has one to two inches of sprouting
- Every time you water your paperwhites, water it with a mix of alcohol and water until they are done growing and flowering
- Use clear drinking alcohol—vodka and gin are good choices (rubbing alcohol can be used, too, but you have to adjust the ratio--see below)
- The alcohol can be the cheap stuff—it does not need to be top shelf!
- Do not use flavored or sweetened alcohol—plain, clear alcohol only
Mix the alcohol and water just before you water. That way, you won’t have alcohol sitting around where youngsters could get into it, and the alcohol won’t evaporate between waterings.
Mix at a ratio of 1:7. One part alcohol to 7 parts water.
If you only have one or two pots, you won’t need much liquid when you water. A half cup to a cup will do.
- For a half cup of liquid, use one tablespoon of alcohol and seven tablespoons of water.
- Double for a cup of watering mixture. For easy measuring, this would be one ounce of alcohol and seven ounces of water (or pour in alcohol to ⅛ of a cup, then fill to the one cup line with water).
- If you have several paperwhite pots, you can mix this in a higher quantity than you would if you only have a pot or two.
What If You Don’t Keep Drinking Alcohol Around?
The original research was done with drinking alcohol, but if you don’t have or don’t want to use drinking alcohol, you can use rubbing alcohol (isopropyl alcohol).
The process stays the same, but you need to adjust the ratio of alcohol to water.
If you’re using rubbing alcohol, use one part rubbing alcohol to 10 parts water. (For example, one tablespoon of alcohol and 10 tablespoons of water).
How Much Shorter Will Boozy Paperwhites Grow?
When you use this watering hack, you can expect your paperwhites to grow about 30% to 50% smaller (or shorter) than they would if you watered with plain water.
In other words, instead of 12 to 18 inches tall, your flowers should be more in the range of 6 or 8 to 9 or 12 inches tall.
Will Alcohol in the Water Stunt Paperwhite Flower Growth?
This trick only impacts the growth of the greens—the stems and leaves. Using alcohol in the water will not affect the growth or abundance of the flowers. There’s no impact on the blooms!
So, stunt away. You’ll still have lovely blooms, they’ll just be more tidy and upright!
Basic Growing and Watering Tips for Paperwhites
When you use this hack to keep your paperwhite stems shorter and stronger, follow the same basic good guidelines for growing and watering that you would follow when growing them normally.
- Keep your paperwhites at comfortable room temperature, in a range of 65 to 72 degrees Fahrenheit (18 to 22 Celsius)
- The best light for paperwhites is bright, indirect light
- Water when the top inch of soil starts to dry out
- The bottom soil can stay moist
- In general, your paperwhites will need to be watered about once a week but should be checked daily just in case
- Home conditions vary, so let your plants and their pots (and soil) be your guide
- Some homes are drier than others, and plants may need more frequent watering
- If planting in soil or a potting medium, pots should have drainage holes
- Put a saucer under paperwhite pots to catch extra water
- Empty the saucer about 20 minutes after you water so the medium doesn’t soak up too much water
- Paperwhites can also be grown in forcing vases or in a tray or bowl with glass chips, marbles, or pebbles (like aquarium gravel)
- If planting in stones or in a vase, the water should only reach the bulbs’ roots, not touch the bulb itself
- This stunting hack can be used in vases or pebble-type plantings
- For soilless growing, follow the same basic process for soilless growing, and mix alcohol into the water when you have roots and one or two inches of green growth.
- Dump out the plain water, replace it with alcohol and water, and then top up weekly with an alcohol-infused mixture.
Have Some Fun and Experiment with Your Boozy Paperwhites!
You can have some holiday fun with this stunting process, too—you can even make it a neat science experiment for the kids! (Though, in that case, rubbing or isopropyl alcohol might be more appropriate!)
Researchers suspect the reason this works is that it creates a healthy kind of plant and water stress (but one that still allows normal development and flowering, other than the height difference).
Try growing one pot of paperwhites with plain water and one with alcohol mixed in the water. Compare the two plants and see the difference. Kids can keep track with pictures and notes. The plants themselves will be proof.
Keep all other growing conditions (potting, soil, light, watering frequency, location, etc.) the same so it’s a true experiment with a reliable result.
This method has been proven to keep paperwhites growing more sturdily and stockily, helping to prevent the messy tipped-over look (a look that really detracts from the beauty of the flowers). This one simple watering hack will make it so that you don’t need additional supports or stakes, and you won’t have to bind or tie your paperwhites together.
Want to know more about growing paperwhites and how to have them in bloom when you want them? Check out this article on how to plan plantings around your holidays: Paperwhites for Christmas.