Garden Dilemmas, Delights & Discoveries, Ask Mary Stone, New Jersey Garden blog

Paperwhites & Amaryllis like to Party

a birds eye view of a red amaryllis blooming

Amaryllis look like alien creatures as they open.

Hello fellow readers,

I adore the gift of amaryllis already in bud received on Thanksgiving. Watching the alien-looking beefy blooms open, badly bending the stem, makes me wonder if amaryllis like to party like paperwhites. No kidding. A continuous drink of alcohol keeps paperwhites from toppling over, unlike most of us (smile). Perhaps it works for amaryllis too?

dark green stems and white paperwhites in bloom

Paperwhite Photo by Masaaki Komori on Unsplash

What cocktails to serve?

When growing paperwhite bulbs in water once they grow to two inches, change the water to a 7-to-1 ratio of water-to-spirits such as vodka, tequila, or whiskey and continue watering them with the same mix. Skip the wine or beer, though, as they’re too high in sugar. Or, if you’d prefer not to give up your good cheer, rubbing alcohol will do too.

Alcohol stunts the growth of the stem by about a third without impacting the bloom. Essentially it inhibits water uptake —we’ve always heard alcohol is dehydrating. More is not merrier either, as too much alcohol will overdose your plant, causing severe problems. Plants and People, same-same.

red amaryllis in bloom in front of a widow with a Santa ornament in the background How to grow Paperwhites & Amaryllis in water 

Choose a wide-mouthed container that’s about 4 inches deep with no drainage holes and spread an inch or two of marbles or stones. Position your paperwhite bulbs side by side, pointy end up on top of the stones. The tight fit will help keep them from toppling over, and groupings are far more appealing.

Add another layer of stones to fill in gaps, covering the bulbs just above the widest part, keeping their pointy tips above the stones. Fill up to the bottom of the bulb as if they’re sitting on the water. Then keep the same level throughout as too much water will cause the bulbs to rot.

Paperwhites prefer to be cool, say 65 degrees, and don’t need sunlight until they develop roots. Once they do, move them to a sunny but cool window. Too much warmth will cause them to grow leggy and flop over. Once in flower, move them out of direct sunlight so the blooms will last longer.

a red amaryllis in full bloom on a bay window at nighttime with white Christmas lightsServing cocktails to amaryllis helps too. 

It turns out serving cocktails to amaryllis works, too, though they tend to be less floppy, so the need for a drink isn’t as great.

Layer 3-inches of stones, place the amaryllis bulb, then add stones alongside to stabilize it. Maintain the water slightly below the bulb to not touch, causing the bulb to rot. Then begin offering alcohol drinks after two inches of growth emerges.

Both bulbs can only flower once in the water and won’t survive if left in the ground outside in my zone (5b-6), though they can in zones 9 to 11 and zone 8 if protected. But amaryllis bulbs can bloom annually for up to forty years in a potting mix inside, as can paperwhites for about two years. If you wish to know how to get them to rebloom, feel free to ask Mary :^) to check out the link below.

Why not start a new pot of bulbs every couple of weeks to enjoy continuous blooms throughout the winter. Maybe it’s best to allow them to drink alone, though. People may begin to talk.

Garden Dilemmas? (and your favorite Podcast App.)

You’ll enjoy a related column, The Gift of Sharing Growth

Helpful link on How to Get an Amaryllis Bulb to Rebloom


Mary Stone, owner of Stone Associates Landscape Design & Consulting. As a Landscape Designer, I am grateful for the joy of helping others beautify their surroundings which often leads to sharing encouragement and life experiences. These relationships inspired my weekly column published in THE PRESS, 'Garden Dilemmas? Ask Mary', began in 2012. I dream of growing the evolving community of readers into an interactive forum to share encouragement and support in Garden and Personal Recoveries - seeking nature’s inspirations, stimulating growth, weeding undesirables, embracing the unexpected. Thank you for visiting! Mary

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