A wise woman named Snooki once exclaimed “vodka, straight up!” when asked how she keeps herself in shape. I’m paraphrasing—her actual words were “it sucks, but no Long Islands or margaritas when you drink. It has to be straight vodka.” Still, the idea that vodka might be a contributing factor in the art of thriving resonates both with me as a person who won’t turn down a martini and as someone who occasionally buys flowers and wants to keep them alive.
To preface: I’m not actually a plant or flower person. I do not know much about them, I don’t have patience for them, and I suffer from a mild case of trypophobia, so I’m particular about the composition of the horticulture that enters my home. But occasionally, I will impulse-buy an inexpensive bouquet of uniformly colored tulips, peonies (basic and proud), or branches with some colored bulbs to put on the table in my foyer, usually when I’m having people over. I don’t know if buying flowers at the deli or a fancy florist makes a difference in their life span or if I’m just bad at trimming, but whatever I picked up would die in a matter of days, sometimes as little as two.
Then, a few years ago, I heard someone at a party say she swears pouring vodka in with the water is the trick to keeping flowers alive. A low-stakes solution! I had to give it a go. Plus, on some level it made sense. If it was your one job to be on display at a party, wouldn’t you need a drink? Now, I trim the ends, pull off the leaves, and pop flowers in a vase of tap water with a splash of whatever vodka I have. I’ve had flowers thrive for as many as five or six days, so I swear it works.
Until it didn’t a few weeks ago—I bought an $8 bouquet of lavender tulips from the display outside a local plant store and performed my usual ritual of boozing up the water before plunging them in the vase. A day later they were hunched over, resembling a sad cluster of green pipe-cleaners with crinkly petals all over the floor.
Did I go overboard with the vodka? Had I just gotten lucky all these years with fairly healthy greenery? Because I had some time on my hands (and was genuinely curious!), I called up Bill Miller, a professor of horticulture and the director of the Flower Bulb Research Program at Cornell University.