Have you ever forced a flower? In the world of horticulture, this is not a caddish come-on in Brooks basement but the practice of artificially warming a plant so that its flowers open before their natural season. Cornell recently published a plain-language recipe for a method of forcing by feeding the plant with alcohol! See “Pickling your paperwhites” at our Horticulture homepage for your academic justification for saucing up your windowboxes.  One for you, one for me . . .
It is popular to force certain species to provide indoor cheer during the winter, especially some bulbs which are extremely easy to grow and devote most of their energy to flower production. Amaryllis is one very popular bulb for forcing around Christmas, and so are paperwhite daffodils, but the latter actually flower a better under the influence.

As you probably know, daffodils are common in a variety of colors and color mixtures from white to yellow, though I’ve also seen oranges and light pinks. Of these, a variety of whites, called paperwhites, are a type commonly forced for indoor decor because their flower buds do not need time in the cold ground to mature. Sometimes, though, the forced stems get too long and weak to support the large flower, and the whole thing flops over.

To shorten the growth of the forced bulbs, Cornell researchers suggest adding diluted hard alcohol—the right amount to reach a final 5% concentration. Wine and beer are no good: the sugars in them promote the growth of pathogenic fungi in the soil. Hard alcohol is the only way to go, as long as you keep the final product below 10%.

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