Winter house plants - paperwhites
Is there a young child in the house? Or a person young at heart? Paperwhite narcissus are wonderfully easy to grow - most bulbs have already started to grow before the bulb ever meets a pot.
This is a plant that is far too tender to consider growing outside. Thus we are really forced to enjoy them as temporary beauty during the winter. They are easy and fun to grow in water...kids love seeing how rapidly they grow. Plus they have a heavy, sweet fragrance.
(A cautionary note: some paperwhites have a fragrance so heavy it is a kindness to call it cloying; other varieties have a lighter and sweeter odor. Bulbs bought at box stores, grocery stores and other vendors may not give clear information about the intensity of the odor. Reputable greenhouses state clearly if the odor is heavy and musky or light and sweet.)
The instructions are simplicity itself. I like to grow mine is a tall (12" or so), straight-sided clear glass vase. (These can be purchased at any florist. Also check the thrift stores). Place about 3-4" of pretty marbles or acquarium gravel in the container, then seat the bulb on the gravel and add enough so that the stones/marbles/gravel surround the bottom half of the bulb.
Add water to come just above the rocks and place the vase in natural but not bright light.
Now, here comes the best part....many folks miss out on the pleasure of paperwhites because they can get long and leggy and tip over.
Here is how you avoid that: Fred Van Bourgondien, seventh-generation member of the K. Van Bourgondien & Sons family, said that the bulb industry, with Cornell University, has a solution for avoiding leggy paperwhites.
Give them a nip of alcohol.
It turns out that alcohol, diluted with water, will shorten the narcissus stems. If you follow our instructions below, the stems will be one-third to one-half shorter than normal, but with the same size flowers. Caution: If you give them too much alcohol, it could be toxic to the plant.
The procedure for managing the growth of paperwhites is this: Begin watering with a dilute solution of four to six percent alcohol when shoots are about one to two inches above the top of the bulbs. (Solution should not exceed 10 percent!)
Rubbing alcohol and distilled spirits such as gin, vodka, whiskey, rum and tequila are all fine. Beer and wine are NOT appropriate because of the sugars they contain.
To determine the correct dilute solution, take the percentage of alcohol on the label and divide by five.