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Is Booze Good For Flowers?

For home gardeners who don't want their daffodils to tip over, a Cornell University horticulturist thinks he has the answer: Get the flowers a little tipsy with some hard liquor.

Giving some potted plants diluted alcohol — whiskey, vodka, gin or tequila — stunts the growth of the stem but does not affect the blossoms, said William Miller, director of Cornell's Flower Bulb Research Program. As a result, the houseplant does not get so tall that it flops over.

Miller reported his findings in the April issue of HortTechnology, a peer-reviewed journal of horticulture.

"I've heard of using alcohol for lots of things ... but never for dwarfing plants," said Charlie Nardozzi, a horticulturist with the National Gardening Association. "It sounded weird when I first heard about it, but our members say it works. I'm going to try it next year, just for curiosity."

Miller's study focused on paperwhite narcissus and other daffodils, but he has also had promising results with tulips.

Miller began his investigation last year after receiving a call from The New York Times about a reader who had written to the garden editor claiming that gin had prevented some paperwhite narcissi from growing too tall and floppy and asked if it was because of some "essential oil" in the gin.

Intrigued, Miller tested dry gin, unflavored vodka, whiskey, white rum, gold tequila, mint schnapps, red and white wine and pale lager beer, on paperwhites. The beer and wine did not work, probably because of their sugar content, he said.

"While solutions greater than 10 percent alcohol were toxic. Solutions between 4 and 6 percent alcohol stunted the paperwhites effectively," Miller said. "When the liquor is properly used, the paperwhites we tested were stunted by 30 to 50 percent, but their
flowers were as large, fragrant and long-lasting as usual."

Miller said gardeners should wait until their daffodil shoots are several inches long, then pour the diluted alcohol into the soil.

(To get a 5 percent solution from 80-proof liquor, which is 40 percent alcohol, add one part liquor to seven parts water.)

Any economic benefits, at least directly, are slight, Miller said. Commercial horticulturists already have other growth-control methods for large-scale production, such as employing unusual temperature cycles.

Miller is not sure why the alcohol stunts plant growth, but he theorized it might injure the roots. Or, he speculated that the mixture forces the plant to expend energy to extract the water or rid itself of the alcohol.
By William Kates

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