Expert Says Hard Liquor Helps Houseplants
- By WILLIAM KATES, Associated Press Writer
Wednesday, April 5, 2006
(04-05) 19:53 PDT Ithaca, N.Y. (AP) --
For home gardeners who don't want their flowers to tip over, a Cornell
University horticulturist thinks he has the answer: Get the flowers a
little tipsy with some hard liquor.
Giving some plants diluted alcohol — whiskey, vodka, gin or tequila —
stunts the growth of a plant's leaves and stems but doesn't affect the
blossoms, said William Miller, director of Cornell's Flower Bulb
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 senior horticulturist with
the National Gardening Association, a Vermont-based organization that
promotes plant-based education.
"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," Nardozzi
Miller's study focused on paperwhite narcissus and other daffodils but
he's also had promising results with tulips.
"I think with a little jiggering — no pun intended — the method will
work for tulips, though I think it will not be as simple as with
paperwhites," he said.
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 that diluted alcohol might act as a growth retardant, Miller
began conducting experiments with ethanol. Because hard liquor is
easier for consumers to obtain, he switched to alcohol and began
trying different kinds, including 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, likely because of their sugar content,
"While solutions greater than 10 percent alcohol were toxic, solutions
between 4 and 6 percent alcohol stunted the paperwhites effectively,"
said Miller. "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."
Any economic benefits, at least directly, are slight, he said.
Commercial horticulturists already have other growth-control methods
for large-scale production. But for home gardeners, the gain is in
terms of product quality. According to the NGA, 83 percent of all U.S.
households participate in some type of indoor or outdoor gardening
Miller, however, said he could envision profitable marketing schemes
emerging from the study.
"Maybe, instead of charging $1 for a bulb. You can market that $1 bulb
with a mini bottle of Tanqueray, insert a little card with some
history and instructions, put it in a fancy package and charge $10 for
Miller isn't sure why the alcohol stunts plant growth but he has three
theories that he is exploring.
_Growth is caused when plant cells absorb water and expand. The
alcohol could be injuring the plant roots, preventing the roots from
absorbing the water as efficiently.
_When alcohol is mixed with the water, the plant has to use more of
its growing energy to extract the water from the solution.
_The plant uses its growing energy to rid itself of the alcohol it has
Miller will be working this spring to see if a little booze works for
amaryllis and such vegetables as tomatoes and peppers.
Imagine, he joked, you may be able to grow your own Bloody Mary.
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