Oct 20th, 2010

It's time to Plant Paperwhites (Narcissus) to Brighten Fall & Winter Days

Paperwhites + Gin = shorter paperwhites that don't tip over!

Paperwhites + Gin = shorter paperwhites that don’t tip over!

Three varieties of paperwhites are available in the Garden Shop.

by Jonah Holland, PR & Marketing Coordinator, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden

One of the things I most love about working at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden is that each week, without a doubt, I learn something new.  On Monday, I was working on a video with Energy Conservation Specialist, Allison Kaufmann at Dominion Virginia Power and Tom Brinda, the Garden’s Assistant Executive Director, learning about about what types of plants are best for shading HVAC units around homes to make them more efficient.   I learned the common and Latin names for 6 new species of shrubs — but don’t quiz me on the spelling!

Last week,  it was a trip to the Garden Shop that taught me something. Our new  Garden Shop Outdoor Buyer, Vikki Wilson, was really excited to show me an  experiment she was trying that she’d read about.  See, the problem with Paperwhites (Narcissus) is that unless you grow them in a vase-like container with tall sides, the blooms grow too tall and tend to be top-heavy and bend or break. Vikki’s research showed her that she could use  alcohol  (in this case Gin) in a 1 : 7 ratio with water to stunt the height of the blooms so they wouldn’t fall over.  This is called the Pickling Method.  You can actually use any type of 80 proof  clear liquor — or even substitute rubbing alcohol  if you don’t have any Gin or Vodka handy (the ratio then changes to 1: 10).

Cornell University did a study of this method to test its effectiveness and found that using an alcohol solution like this does indeed reduce the height of the stem without reducing the number of blooms.

Keep in mind that you cannot substitute beer or wine for the alcohol — as this will kill your bulbs. And remember that paperwhite bulbs and alcohol are poisonous to children and pets,  so make sure you keep them out of reach.

Best of all, paperwhite bulbs are cheap at $1.25 each in the Garden Shop.  And they are a wonderful way to add some cheer to the dark winter days that are coming.  They make wonderful gifts too. There is just something about watching something grow and blossom that cheers my soul, even on the darkest coldest days of winter.  In fact,  after my visit with Vikki, I left with 2 containers of paperwhites, one for me, and one for a friend. I just couldn’t resist them — knowing the joy that they’d bring in their coming weeks with their spring-like fragrance and beautiful white blooms just when I need them most.

In case you didn’t know (I didn’t) the Garden Shop sells all the supplies you’d need to grow paperwhites from bulbs (except for the alcohol, of course).  A set with bulbs, polished stones and a vase starts at about $12.50 or you can just buy the bulbs and recycle a pot you have at home. The bulbs will grow in either dirt or pebbles, but make sure to use pebbles if you plan to use the Pickling Method.

Jonah Holland is Digital Content Manager at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, where she has worked for 14 years overseeing social media, the blog, and the website. She is also a mom, yogi, open water swimmer, gardener, and seeker. She's been known to go for a walk in the Garden and come back with hundreds of plant photos, completely inspired to write her next blog post.

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