Give Your Bulbs A Blast!

December 1, 2010 | By | Comments (12)


I heard a loud crash in our kitchen in the middle of the night. What could it be? Burglars? Poltergeists? My son sneaking in again at 3 AM? I grabbed a pair of tweezers, the first deadly weapon I could find, and silently crept downstairs in ninja mode to subdue the bumbling intruder.

Fortunately, my lethal tweezers were not needed. The cause of the crash were paperwhite narcissus. They’d grown so tall and leggy in the vase that their weight had pulled it over and sent them plunging to the floor.

This terrifying episode gave me the vapors.

For those of you who don’t know what paperwhite narcissus are, shame on you. My wife hates plants and even she likes them. She likes them because, unlike most other bulbs, they need no winter chilling to bloom. Why, they don’t even need soil. All you have to do is buy the bulbs in fall from the garden center. Fill a vase or container with a inch or so of gravel, pebbles, or glass chips. Place the bulbs atop the gravel, pebbles, or chips and add water up to the bases of the bulbs. In a few weeks, they’ll bloom, just in time for your obnxious relatives visiting for the holidays. Yaaaayyyyyy!

And Now — the Real Truth

You didn’t actually think it was THAT easy, did you? Tsk, tsk. Then what happened to my paperwhites will probably happen to yours. Unless you know a little secret.

William miller, Professor of Horticulture at Cornell, has discovered an ingenious way to keep paperwhites from getting too tall. If you mix just the right amount of alcohol into the water, they’ll bloom just as well as sober paperwhites, only they’ll be 1/3 to 1/2 shorter.

Hmmmm. Maybe that’s why I’m only 4’6″ tall. Mom, you told me it was the chewing tobacco! 

Anyhow, here are some easy directions from Prof. Miller.

1. Use only water for about a week until roots start growing from the bulbs.

2. Pour off this water and replace it with a solution of 5% alcohol. Use your favorite 80-proof spirit, whether that be gin, vodka, whiskey, rum, or tequila. One part spirit to 7 parts water yields the proper strength.

3. Do not use beer or wine, because the sugars in those beverages will mess things up. Drink them instead.

4. That’s it!

Don’t Be Wasteful

When it comes to fine spirits, bulbs are not as discriminating as Grumpy’s readers. So don’t waste top-shelf liquors on them just to stunt their growth. Use a cheapo brand, like Old Hairy Knuckles. Save the good stuff for when you hear a scary noise downstairs in the middle of the night and your wife tells you to be a man and go check it out.

Don’t forget the tweezers.



  1. Angel

    This is my first time forcing bulbs. I planted the bulbs in water over rocks but a week later the water smells like the sewer. Could alcohol help prevent water from rotting?

    November 15, 2016 at 2:34 pm
  2. Grumpy Gardener (His Benevolence)

    Even a cat needs to relax now and then. (Actually, cats relax all the time.)

    December 14, 2010 at 1:15 pm
  3. Jean

    These things stink! Possibly drinking the gin might help the smell a little. Is your cat interested in drinking from the container? Might explain a few things!

    December 14, 2010 at 11:11 am
  4. Amy

    This nifty tip works when using soil too!

    December 14, 2010 at 6:57 am
  5. Diane Krajcik

    I love the look of paperwhites, but they smell so bad, I have to grow them outside. They look great with red amaryllis.

    December 8, 2010 at 12:46 pm
  6. Laura

    Great idea! now if I can keep the cat from drinking from the vase….
    On the other hand, a drunk cat is less likely to go after the birds outside! HMMmmm, this idea could be just the ticket!
    tired of cat “presents” in Florida

    December 7, 2010 at 12:05 pm
  7. Grumpy Gardener (His Benevolence)

    I’ve never tired it on hyacinths, but why not give it a go? I’m sure they’d be willing subjects.

    December 6, 2010 at 10:30 am
  8. CourtneyA

    So, can I use this alcohol solution when forcing hyacinths too?

    December 4, 2010 at 8:33 am
  9. Jim Long

    What a great tip! I love the idea, although I hate paperwhites. They smell like bad breath when the bloom, but maybe with a shot of gin, one for them and one for me, I may like them better. Thanks for the tip.

    December 2, 2010 at 3:48 pm
  10. Agricultural Fans

    haha great little story there.

    December 2, 2010 at 3:21 pm
  11. Henry H.

    Just what I need Steve, one more drunky around the house for the holidays!!!!!
    Maybe thats why they call them narcissus, the more they drink the better they look!!!!
    You knew someone was gonna say it……..

    December 2, 2010 at 11:49 am
  12. filozima

    Excellent read. I like your style…have a good one!/Nice blog! Keep it up!
    Growing Plants

    December 2, 2010 at 1:06 am

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