EVERY YEAR I FALL FOR IT: those fat paperwhite narcissus bulbs at the garden center, promising winter cheer. And then I pot them up, and they grow too tall and flop, and (worst of all) stink up the house. What’s the remedy (besides unpotting them and putting them outside as an offering to Buddha, my recent “solution”)?
I got the answer to at least part of the riddle from Sidney, a Rhode Island gardener who’d attended a lecture I gave there recently. Too bad I didn’t hear earlier, because Sidney (who charmingly says, “I have been gardening for 81 years and I think I would just shrivel up if I were taken away from the country”) had the trick for the floppiness:
Grow your paperwhite bulbs in 8 parts water to 1 part gin or vodka. This works out to half a cup of spirits to 4 cups water, and keeps the leaves short, Sidney confirms, after growing boozy bulbs for three years.
In the past I have grown the paperwhites in tall glass cylinders, in pebbles and water, so that the leaves and stems are supported as they grow by the sides of the vessel. But Sidney’s method allows you to choose any variety of pot, which sounds ideal.
I’m thinking next year I may also add a few drops of bleach to the mixture (this is starting to sound scary, like some mad-scientist experiment instead of floriculture, I know). But a few drops of bleach in a vase of water helps limit the strong scent of cut flowers like Allium, the ornamental onion, so perhaps it would work in this case, too. Anybody have any first-hand knowledge?