Paperwhite narcissus is the easiest bulb plant to grow indoors. All you have to do is buy it, place it in water – a bed of pebbles helps – and put it in a cool, dark area of your home. Then wait for the white blossoms.

You can grow it in an actual pot, with potting soil, if you want, but really, all you need to do is put the root end of the bulb into water and it will grow. The pebbles, pot or potting soil are just to hold the bulb upright.

They will not re-bloom, so you just toss them out when you are done. Nothing could be simpler.

But paperwhites have two problems.

First, they are highly fragrant. For about three quarters of the human population, the fragrance is pleasant. For the other quarter (our daughter is in this group) it is gaggingly stinky. It is biological and nothing can be done about it. If you like the fragrance and have company who doesn’t, simply move the narcissus to another room.

Also, paperwhites grow too tall and flop. The scientists at Cornell have a solution (literally) for that. Give them a drink.


A solution of 4 to 6 percent alcohol stunts the growth of the stems without affecting the blossoms. Both rubbing alcohol and potable spirits work.

You have to do some math. It is fairly simple if you use rubbing alcohol, because that is 100 percent alcohol. Just 1 part alcohol to 19 parts water.

With spirits, it is more complicated. An 80-proof vodka is 40 percent alcohol; therefore to get 5 percent you would use one part vodka to 8 parts water.

Don’t use beer or wine because they have too many sugars and will hurt the growth of the bulbs.

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