The gin works


But, as I am sure many of you have experienced, sometimes it
can work all too well. Like when you wake up feeling like someone might have
accidentally buried an axe in your head.

In this case, it was my tazettas that had the hangover.  For a few years now, I’ve been hearing
about the trick of putting a small percentage of gin into the water you’re using to
force tazetta narcissus (also known as paperwhites).  7 parts water to 1 part gin is the suggested ratio, according to the Cornell Flower Bulb Research Program. The idea is that
the alcohol will stop them from getting too tall and lanky, especially in a
shorter vase. I’d heard about this a few times, but never tried it until this

 It could be that I buy fancier tazettas than the ones
normally found in garden centers—I mail order such cultivars as Grand Soleil
d’Or and Erlicheer—but mine seem to have had an extreme reaction to the elixir.
As it is, I don’t think some of the buds will make it beyond the edge of the
vases they’re in. Some of them are only about 5 inches tall, as you see here
(top, I think Erlicheer). On the other hand, my untreated tazettas (above, I think Early Pearl) are
their usual tall selves, which I now think I like better.

It’s all good. Anything green and flowering during this
unusually frigid January is a big plus. All the same, I think next year I'm putting my
tazettas on the wagon.

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regular radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world, and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. Height creates flopping–so stunting them prevents that. But I think the varieties I get from OHG are less likely to flop. So I probably never needed the gin.

  2. I tried the gin this year, I must have put more in one of the vases, but I was still quite happy with the results. Mine were still tall enough, but didn’t get floppy. It was strange getting the whiff of gin when I walked by at the beginning though :). Yours definitely got really stunted, I would not have enjoyed that.

  3. You can also do this with rubbing alcohol–much cheaper.

    If you want them to be a bit taller, but not tall enough to flop, just add a bit more water.

    The flowers look lovely and I can smell their distinct scent all the way to S. Carolina.

  4. Gin, hm ? Never heard that before. Now I know what to do with the bottle my brother-in-law left behind ( stuff tastes like turpentine to me ). Wonder if it’ll work on amaryllis ?

  5. I heard Vodka works, as well as pennies. I’ve tried putting pennies in a vase of Tulips, and they sure did stand up straight. Looked weird to me, but some people might like it.

  6. Elizabeth, I agree your stunted bulbs don’t look quite right — but really, I think it’s the vase they’re planted in that’s the source of the problem. The height of the vase isn’t visually balanced with the short paperwhite stems. I think the bulbs would look stunning, however, planted in a low bowl or pot to balance out the arrangement.

  7. I’ve done this the past two years with vodka and found it to be very successful in keeping the paperwhites to a smaller size. I didn’t have your issue with stunting, but my bulbs aren’t fancy – just grabbed out of the giant no-name bin at the nursery. Any alcohol works, as does rubbing alcohol but the proportions are different. I posted a photo showing the variation in height I got when I tried this for the first time in 2008:

    This year I bought a small bottle of inexpensive vodka – in this economy, can’t afford to be wasting the imported stuff on flowers.

  8. I’m glad now I didn’t try this this year — I’m just growing regular old (stinky!) paperwhites, but they’ve been just the right height — I think because I keep my house so cold to save on gas bills. Last time I grew them I was sharing a house with an extremely cold-sensitive room mate, and they were a floppy mess.

  9. For the past several years I’ve been running my own paperwhite/rubbing alcohols trials. What I’ve found is if you maintain the water at about 10% alcohol until the plant is about 6 or 8 inches tall, then flush with clear water, they continue to grow, but the stems stay firm and upright.

  10. I might try just a drop of gin in the water. The ones I tried this year stayed remarkably upright, especially considering that they’re in a Hyacinth vase. I don’t believe in wasting vodka, even the cheap stuff.

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