Science has proven that alcohol is good for forcing paperwhite narcissus to flower during the holidays. Once to be thought a gardening myth, science has documented that ‘watering’ paperwhites with alcohol will decrease plant height and flower height. This is a good thing because flowering bulbs stretch in the low light of winter and become floppy and fall over. Adding clear alcohol to the water will reduce water uptake resulting in reducing overall plant size.
When alcohol is mixed with water, the alcohol limits water uptake by the plant’s roots. This in turn promotes shorter foliage and flower stalks. So when a pot of paperwhite narcissus is grown in a sunny window they likely will not need to be staked.
To promote one-third shorter plants this season, first start your bulbs off by using plain tap water. When roots have developed and the green shoots are 1 to 2 inches long, pour off the water and replace with water mixed with clear alcohol, like gin. The solution should have 4 to 6 percent alcohol. If using an 80 proof liquor (40 percent alcohol), mix one part alcohol to 7 parts of water.