Snowdrops - Growing One of the Earliest Flowering Bulbs (Galanthus)

Close-Up Of Snowdrops Blooming Outdoors
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Overview and Description:

In cold climates, snowdrops (Galanthus) are often the first flowers to bloom - and a welcome sight they are. Their tiny, drooping flowers and grass-like foliage give the plant the appearance of delicacy, but snowdrops are hardy plants, often poking up and blooming despite the snow remaining on the ground.

Snowdrops may take a while to naturalize in your garden or yard, but eventually, you’ll see them popping up in places you’re sure you never planted them.

They can hybridize between species, so expect surprises.

Snowdrops may irritate skin and can cause stomach pain if ingested.

Description:

Snowdrops are a bulbous perennial, at home in both woodlands and rock gardens.

  • Leaves: 2-3 straps, slightly inverted leaves per bulb. Since snowdrops grow in clumps, they tend to look like a single, much fuller plant.
     
  • Flowers: The 6 petal (actually tepals) white flowers, with green markings, hang like pendulums on graceful, arching stems. There is usually only one flower per bulb, but bulbs spread quickly. Some varieties of snowdrops are scented.

Latin Name:

Galanthus species and cultivars

Common Name:

Snowdrops

Hardiness Zone:

USDA Hardiness Zones 3 - 8, depending on species.

Exposure

Full sun to Partial shade. Heat will shorten their bloom period and will cause them to wilt and go into dormancy.

Mature Size:

4 - 12 in. (h) x 3 - 6  in. (w)

Bloom Period

Late winter / Early spring.

They will often bloom while there is still snow on the ground and a dusting of snow won't bother them at all.

Suggested Varieties:

  • Galanthus rivals Single Snowdrops - This is the common nodding, white snowdrop, the one you are most likely to find.
  • Galanthus rivals 'Flore Pleno' - Ruffled white and green flowers look like tiny roses. Flowers are sterile, but bulbs will spread.
  • Galanthus elwesiiGiant Snowdrop - I don’t know why they’re called giants. The plant is average size. But they flowers do have a nice fragrance.
  • Galanthus'Sam Arnott' or 'S. Arnott' - Vigorous grower, with a strong, sweet, honey fragrance.

     

Design Suggestions:

Since snowdrops may bloom before you're out working in your garden, be sure to plant them near your walk and driveway. They look quite natural in a woodland setting and will grow well in a woodland's rich humus soil. Make sure they're getting enough sunlight, or you'll have fewer blooms.

On cold mornings, it may look like your snowdrops were done in by frost, but they'll rally as soon as the sun comes out. On the other hand, too much heat will cause them to whither.

Many varieties will naturalize in your lawn. Snowdrops also pair well with other early blooming bulbs, like scilla, grape hyacinth, and early crocus.

Growing Tips:

Soil: Snowdrops like a neutral to slightly alkaline soil pH and a rich but well-draining soil.

Planting Snowdrops: Snowdrops need some sunlight to bloom, but too much sun will 'melt' them - cause them to whither away.

The dappled shade of a deciduous tree, before it has leafed out in the early spring, is perfect.

Purchased snowdrops are planted in the fall, but if a friend lifts some for you in the spring, before the leaves have started to decline, they should take fine, too. Either way, plant them immediately.

Snowdrops can be started from seed, but since they hybridize easily, they won't come true from seed.

Plant the bulbs point up, about 3-5 inches apart and about 2 inches deep, in heavy soil; 4-6 inches in the sandy soil. Actually, if you dig a wide hole, you can just scatter the bulbs, or scatter them on the surface and poke them in, if the soil is soft enough. Try not to crowd them too much, or you'll be dividing them sooner.

Water well and keep watering weekly until the ground has frozen. They won't sprout until next spring, but they are growing roots.

Maintenance

After flowering in the spring, let the foliage die back naturally. Snowdrops don't linger long, like daffodils or tulips. They'll disappear before you know it.

Mark the area, so you don't accidentally dig the bulbs when planting something else, later in the season. In dry seasons, water periodically throughout the summer. For the most part, snowdrops will take care of themselves.

If your soil is lean, you may want to consider a bulb fertilizer after flowering.

Large, established clumps may eventually have fewer blooms. At that point, you should consider digging them and dividing the clumps. Do this after flowering. The bulbs are small, but plump, and will break apart easily. Replant immediately.

Growing Snowdrops in Containers

It is possible to grow your snowdrops in containers. You can squeeze them in quite close, but they'll still need to be at least 2-3 inches deep. In USDA Zones 5 & 6, your containers may need some winter protection.

Since snowdrops take a few years to become established, they are not often recommended for forcing.

Pests & Problems:

Luckily there aren't a lot of pests out when snowdrops bloom. However, snails and slugs will eat their leaves, later in the spring. The good news is snowdrops are resistant to deer, rabbits ad even groundhogs.

Snowdrops can also be prone to fungal diseases, especially gray mold (botrytis). Good air circulation and well-draining soil will usually prevent problems.