Galanthus, or snowdrops, are among the first flowers of the year and always popular with gardeners. They seem to mark a crossover between winter and spring, poking up through the dormant ground in January. Their delicate pendant flowers eventually open and nod gently in the breeze.
Many people don’t realise, but snowdrops come in a huge variety of styles. The plants may be tall or short, the flowers large or small and single or double, and the petals can have a vast array of markings.
The leaves may be green or grey-toned, and some are thin and strappy while others are thick and blunt. Some gardeners collect different varieties of snowdrops and are known as galanthophiles.
When buying snowdrops, don’t automatically go for more expensive varieties thinking they are better. Cheaper bulbs mean those varieties are quick to multiply and grow into large clumps.
Also, always buy from a reputable nursery or garden supplier. So, here is how to plant and grow snowdrops, as well as tips on dividing large clumps.
Where to grow snowdrops
Snowdrops suit any garden style and are hardy and fuss-free plants. Bear in mind that the only important condition is moist soil, because snowdrops don’t like to dry out in the sun.
However, they also need good drainage. Therefore, loosen up heavy soils by adding a layer of grit to the bottom of the planting hole.
Plant them in a partially shaded spot in moist soil. Dig in plenty of organic matter like peat-free or homemade compost or leaf mould to enrich the soil.
Snowdrops look great planted in drifts underneath deciduous trees and hedges and tucked into shady corners of flower beds. They can also be naturalised under shady parts of the lawn. Varieties with green leaves prefer more shade than grey-toned ones.
How to plant snowdrops
Most spring-flowering bulbs are planted in the autumn. But snowdrops are the exception, being planted in late spring after they finish flowering. This is usually during March and April.
This method is called planting ‘in the green’ because the plants still have their green leaves. The bulbs are dug up just after flowering and sold on.
For best results, plant the snowdrops as soon as you can and keep them well-watered. Plant to the same depth as they were growing, marked by the soil line, and firm in.
Digging up snowdrops can damage their roots, so many garden retailers offer snowdrops grown in pots. These are more expensive to buy but can be more reliable.
How to divide clumps of snowdrops
Snowdrop bulbs multiply every year and overcrowding can reduce the flower display. So, give plants a boost, and create more displays for free by lifting and dividing the clumps.
Wait until the leaves have gone yellow, then dig up the plant and carefully split it into three to five smaller clumps. Make sure not to cause too much root damage.
Replant them immediately to the same depth as before, with plenty of space between the plants and water in well.
Why are snowdrop bulbs rising to the surface?
Many people experience problems with snowdrop bulbs being pushed onto the surface of the soil. This is due to overcrowding and a clear sign that the clumps need to be lifted and divided, as above.
The bulbs that rise to the surface are the small new bulbs. They get pushed out of the soil and would naturally disperse and put down roots nearby. But help them along by lifting and dividing the plant, and they will reward you with stunning displays.
Snowdrops are a wonderful addition to the garden. The nodding flowers that bloom early in the year are a sign of the season to come. Planting, lifting and dividing snowdrops is a great way to increase your stock in the garden.
David Domoney is a Chartered Horticulturalist, Broadcaster, and Author. David has worked with a number of the UK’s leading garden retailers as a plant buyer and strategic consultant. With more than 30 years experience, in horticulture, David is as passionate about plants now as he was when he bought his first plant at a village fete.
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