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Narcissus papyraceus, commonly called "paperwhites," are extremely easy (Credit: Handout)

Narcissus papyraceus, commonly called "paperwhites," are extremely easy to force indoors over the winter. And while you'll see lots of kits for sale - for $20, $30 or even $40 - all you really need is bulbs, a dish, pebbles and some water. You can have a roomful of fragrant flowers in time for the holidays if you start today. Here's how.

How to force paperwhite bulbs indoors

BY JESSICA DAMIANO

Narcissus papyraceus, commonly called "paperwhites," are extremely easy
(Credit: Handout)

Narcissus papyraceus, commonly called "paperwhites," are extremely easy to force indoors over the winter. And while you'll see lots of kits for sale - for $20, $30 or even $40 - all you really need is bulbs, a dish, pebbles and some water. You can have a roomful of fragrant flowers in time for the holidays if you start today. Here's how.

1) Prepare the pot Find a dish, pot
(Credit: Photo by Jessica Damiano)

1) Prepare the pot

Find a dish, pot or container that's 3 to 4 inches deep. Be sure there are no drainage holes on the bottom. Fill the container one-third to one-half full with pebbles, small stones or marbles.

2) Crowd a few bulbs on top Set
(Credit: Photo by Jessica Damiano)

2) Crowd a few bulbs on top

Set them pointy end up, positioning them on top of the pebbles so that they prop up each other.

3. Add more pebbles around the bulbs, leaving
(Credit: Photo by Jessica Damiano)

3. Add more pebbles around the bulbs, leaving the tips exposed.

3) Fill 'er up Add just enough water
(Credit: Photo by Jessica Damiano)

3) Fill 'er up

Add just enough water to reach the bottom of the bulbs. Place in a cool, dark spot - like a basement - checking daily to maintain the water level at the base of the bulbs. In about a week or so, when roots begin to develop and the plant sprouts from the top, move the dish to a sunny windowsill.

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Paperwhites flopping over? Get them drunk A common
(Credit: William B. Miller, Flowerbulb Research Program, Cornell University)

Paperwhites flopping over? Get them drunk

A common problem with paperwhites is that they grow too tall and leggy, and flop over. But the Flower Bulb Research Program at Cornell University has found a simple solution: alcohol.

Wait until shoots are green and about one to two inches above the top of the bulb, and replace the water with a solution of 4- to 6-percent alcohol. Then continue watering with this solution whenever water is needed. This will result in stockier, stunted plants that are one-third to one-half shorter, but their flowers will be normal sized.

You'll have to do a bit of math to concoct a water-to-alcohol ratio, depending on the type of liquor you're using. For instance, combining one part of a 40 percent distilled spirit (gin, vodka, whiskey, rum or tequila) to 7parts water will yield a 5-percent alcohol solution. Just don't use beer, wine or liquor containing sugar.

Rubbing alcohol (70 percent isopropyl alcohol) works just as well. Dilute one part to 10 or 11 parts water.

Gardening 101 : Step-by-step how-tos for a great garden, from Jessica Damiano, Newsday's Garden Detective.