How To Grow Shorter, Flop-Free Paperwhites

Cornell University developed a “pickling” method for reducing paperwhite height by about a third, while keeping the flowers just as large, numerous and long lasting. We’ve tried this – it works!

Plant your paperwhite bulbs in pebbles, river stones, marbles or clay pellet in a water-tight bowl, wide vase or other container. (See Paperwhite Planting Guide) This isn't a recommended approach for paperwhites grown in soil.

Add water until it just touches the bottom of the bulbs. The plate on the bulb bottom is where the roots emerge and the water bumps them into action. Let your paperwhites develop their initial roots in a cool, dark place for 6 or 8 days. Closets, basements and non-freezing garages can work. The goal is to encourage the bulbs to put their energy into root development rather than top growth so there’s good anchoring.

Here’s the trick . . .

Once one to two inches of roots have grown and the top shoots are an inch or two tall – typically in about 8-10 days – carefully tuck your hand over the bulbs and stones to hold everything in place and tip the container to drain out the water. Just get most of it out, you don’t need to remove every drop. Then replace the plain water with your pickled water, adding enough to hit the same bottom-of-the-bulb level. As the water evaporates over the next few weeks, use the alcohol mixture for topping up.

The recipe for the pickled water is:

1 cup of distilled alcohol (gin, vodka, whisky, rum, tequila) + 7 cups of water. This makes 8 cups of liquid. Mix additional batches as needed. 

Or you can use rubbing alcohol (70% isopropyl alcohol – this is the usual drug store variety) at a ratio of 1 cup rubbing alcohol + 11 cups of water. This second approach is more economical.

Tip: Don’t use wine or beer in your pickling mixture; the sugars in these will interact with the plants with less than great results.