Think Spring Thoughts with Paperwhite Bulbs

Andrea Burns
Ford County Extension Agent

As the sometimes dreary winter weather can affect us and make us think of spring, we can ease those winter blahs with some spring flowers inside.

Paperwhites are a form of daffodil that do not require a chilling period in order to bloom. Therefore, they are very easy to force and bring in to flower.

Following are the steps needed.

• Use a 3 to 4-inch decorative container that does not have drainage holes. It should be transparent enough that you can see the water level in relation to the bulbs.

• Place 1 to 2 inches of washed gravel, marbles, glass beads or stones in the bottom of the container. We will call the material chosen as "media.”

• Place the bulbs on the media so that they are near one another. Add enough media to hold them in place.

• Add enough water that the bottom of the bulb is sitting in water. Do not submerge the bulb. Maintain the water at this level. It normally takes 4 to 8 weeks for the bulbs to bloom.

Unfortunately, paperwhites often become leggy and fall over. Growing in cooler temperatures (60 to 65 degrees) can help but there is another trick that can be useful and involves using a dilute solution of alcohol. No, this trick did not come from an unknown source on the Internet but Cornell University's Flower Bulb Research Program. They suggest the following to obtain a plant that is 1/3 shorter than normal. Flower size and longevity are not affected.

• Grow the bulbs as described above until the shoot is green and about 1 to 2 inches above the top of the bulb.

• Pour off the water and replace it with a 4 to 6% alcohol solution.

• Use this solution instead of water for all future waterings.

There are two methods to add this solution. The first is to add the alcohol solution to what is already in the container. Add enough to bring it up to the proper level. The second will give shorter plants. In this second method, pour off all the old solution and replace it with the new each time additional solution is needed.

So, how do we make the alcohol solution? An easy way is to use rubbing alcohol. Rubbing alcohol is usually 70% alcohol and should be mixed with one-part alcohol with 10 or 11 parts water.

Do not use beer or wine as the sugars present can interfere with normal growth.

The researchers were not sure why this worked but suggested the alcohol made it more difficult for the plants to take up water.

This water stress stunted growth but did not affect the flowers.

For more information on forcing bulbs inside as we patiently wait for spring, contact the Ford County Extension Office at 620-227-4542.