After one too many long and gloomy winter I decided to plant late winter bloomers in my garden. One of my favorites among the surprisingly large selection of plants that bloom in late February or early March, often right under that white stuff is the cute little namesake flower the “Snowdrop”. Along with witch hazel, pussy willow and on some years the groundhog, they cheer me with renewed hope for spring.
Snowdrops are grown from a small bulb, which can be purchased and planted in the fall. At times potted plants can be found in late winter, or early spring. Although Galanthus are a member of the same family of bulbs as the huge Amaryllis; the snowdrops' bulb, leaf and flower are smaller. When planting a trowel or small shovel can be used to dig straight down and rocked back and forth to make a simple triangular opening in the ground. The bulbs are small enough for this. Some bulb fertilizer or bone meal can be thrown in the hole to assist in providing nutrients for next years’ bloom. Drop in the bulb; pull the dirt back to cover and the job is done.
They only need to be planted about 4 inches deep and are not bothered by pesky bugs nor do deer consider them to be good food. The bulbs multiple nicely making an ever enlarging clump of bloom. About every 5 years or so they should be dug and gently separated for replanting. This multiplies one’s own stock while renewing its vigor and still yields enough to share with friends. Without periodic dividing the flower clumps may eventually crowd themselves out and blooming will be decreased.
Typical advice is to divide and transplant snowdrops after the leaves die back or in the fall. BUT, I read just the opposite in some gardening column for snowdrops and chanced transplanting one year while they were in full bloom. One month later they were still blooming. I got about 20 new bulbs from 1 or 2 original bulbs. I've since moved on to dividing them in spring after the blooms fade but before the foliage dies back. They survive and thrive with this treatment and I can easily find the bulbs this way but I don't mess up the bloom display. Digging at this time of year is a wonderfully therapeutic thing and in the fall there is far too much other garden work to do. All in all, I like the idea of dividing snowdrops in March best.
Snowdrops need a bit of sun. This means they can be grown under the bare branches of deciduous trees in areas that will be shady later in the year but not under evergreens. They do most of their growing before the leaf canopy is full enough to create much shade. They can also be grown in sunny garden beds or under grassy turf.
The flowers are snow white with a bit of a green spot. The name is said to come from their dangling nature, looking much like an “ear drop” or earring.
Galanthus nivalis is the most common cultivar in commerce today. It is about 4 – 6 inches tall. Galanthus elwesii is also frequently available. It has larger flowers, taller stems and larger green spots on the petals. There are also varieties of double snowdrops. I've read there are as many as 20 varieties total but really, unless you are a collector the singles all appear fairly similar.
As with all bulbs the leaves of the snowdrop should be left in place to die back naturally so they can provide nutrition to the bulb for next years’ flower. If planted under turf early spring mowing must be delayed while the leaves mature.
Most winter/early spring blooming flowers typically have long blooming seasons. Snowdrops do not disappoint. Except in notably hot seasons bloom time can be expected to last 4 – 6 weeks. Since only 1 or 2 flowers will be produced per bulb each year and since they only last a few days in water they are not a good candidate for cut flowers unless one is lucky enough to have a huge overabundance available. If suffering from an embarrassment of riches by all means sneak one or three blooms into the house. They are adorable in tiny vases and have a wonderful perfume. Another strategy is to dig and repot entire plants to bring indoors but the rootball is large. I expect they would last longer this way but have yet to try it. I do think as tough as they are they could be replanted outdoors again after a few weeks. Alternatively, one could just bury the a pot of bulbs to to overwinter and bring it indoors at blooming time.
It is nice to plant snowdrops were they can easily be observed and in mass since they are small. Planters by the front door, raised beds around the mailbox, at the edges of perennial borders are all suitable locations.