It turns out there IS a way to keep forced bulb stems shorter so they don't flop. It all comes down to Cornell University and a bit of booze. This tiny tipple will work on paperwhites & tulips too.
Paperwhites elicit a very strong response in people. They're one of those love 'em or hate 'em things, like cilantro or thongs.
Whether you think of them as paperwhites or papershites you're going to like this handy little hint because it applies to any bulb that you're forcing inside for winter blooms to fend off the seasonal glooms.
To keep amaryllis, paperwhite or tulip stems from tipping over - is to get them tipsy.
Water your bulbs with 1 part alcohol to 7 parts water.
In 2006 Erin Finan, a Cornell university undergrad, conducted a study for their senior project, based on an old wives tale that boozing your bulbs will keep their stem lengths under control. And it worked.
I *could* go into all of the science that I only partly understand but the basic premise is this: the alcohol prevents water uptake and puts the plant under just enough water stress to reduce leaf and stem growth but not enough stress to affect flower size and longevity.
How to Keep Forced Bulb Stems Shorter
This technique will keep the stems of your forced bulbs ⅓ to ½ of their normal height. Just enough to stop the flop.
NOTE: Don't start to use the alcohol solution for watering until the bulbs have started to grow stems. When they're 1-2" long is when you start watering with the alcohol.
- For this you need small rocks to plant the bulbs in, bulbs for forcing, a pot with no drainage holes, and any alcohol like vodka, gin, rum or tequila. Just don't use beer or wine - they contain too much sugar.
- Add a layer of stones to the bottom of your vessel.
- Add enough water to hit the top of the stones. Make note of around how much water you used so you don't over or underwater later on. With this pot and layer of stones, I needed ¾s of a cup of water.
- Place your bulbs on top of the rocks.
- Fill the rest of the planter around the bulbs with more rocks to hold the bulbs sturdily in place.
- Now mix up your alcohol watering solution. For any 40 proof booze like vodka, gin or tequila mix 1 part alcohol with 7 parts water.
¼ cup vodka + 1 ¾ cups water
You don't want to overdo the alcohol. You want happy, tipsy, not barfing in the bushes shitfaced.
It should be a 4-6% alcohol solution, but as long as you keep it under 10% you won't get them so drunk they end up completely stunted.
If you don't keep alcohol in your home you can also use rubbing alcohol. But because 70% rubbing alcohol (isopropyl alcohol) is almost twice as strong as regular spirits, you need to dilute it more.
Dilute 70% rubbing alcohol to this ratio:
1 part rubbing alcohol to 11 parts water
Continue to water your bulbs with the alcohol solution - presumably until the end of their life. I would *think* you could stop with the alcohol once the flowers have formed but that's just me guessing with my very unscientific plant growing experience.
I am growing amaryllis and paperwhites this year, with one planter being the control group and one being the experimental one.
I will update this post as the results come in to let you know if the buzzed bulbs stay sturdy or fall head over heels.
If you've ALREADY planted your bulbs and they're growing (because you're almost embarrassingly efficient with your plant prep this year) I'd go ahead and start watering them with the alcohol solution now to see what happens.
Go ahead. Put them in the Christmas spirits.