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How, When and Where to Plant Winter-Blooming Snowdrops

Updated on August 2, 2018
Casey White profile image

Dorothy is a Master Gardener, former newspaper reporter, and the author of several books. Michael is a landscape/nature photographer in NM.

A snowdrop plant has a single flower that appears at the top of a flowering stalk.   The flower hangs loosely and has a bell-like shape.
A snowdrop plant has a single flower that appears at the top of a flowering stalk. The flower hangs loosely and has a bell-like shape. | Source

Just about any garden can accommodate snowdrops, so don't hesitate when it's time to buy the bulbs, although they take a year or two to become established and flowering. Snowdrops develop two or three narrow, dark green leaves from the bulb and are pollinated by bees during February and March. Cross-pollination is rare due to the decreased activity of insects during the cold months. As a result, snowdrops very rarely produce seeds and most are sterile.

Snowdrops belong to the family Amaryllidaceae and there are over 20 different species of snowdrops originating from Europe and Asia Minor. You can find them growing in forests, near streams, or in parks. Snowdrops are often confused with snowflakes as they have similar flowers but bloom during different seasons (snowflakes appear later in spring or even in the summertime).

Because of the uncontrolled collecting of plants from the wild, snowdrops are threatened and some species of them are listed as vulnerable or endangered.

When, Where and How to Plant Snowdrops

When: Plant snowdrop bulbs during the early part of autumn (September or October).

Where:

  • Look for an area that has moist soil and shady areas (among shrubs and trees). They prefer well-drained, fertile soil and habitats that will provide full or partial sunlight.
  • Avoid any areas that have dry soil or no shade.

How:

  • Add compost and mix the soil before you plant the bulbs during the early part of autumn.
  • Sow the snowdrop bulbs in a hole about 3-4 inches deep. Planting several bulbs about 3-4 inches apart will create a beautiful winter show for you.
  • Plant the snowdrops with the skinny nose looking up at the sky.

Poisonous to Humans

Snowdrops and their bulbs are poisonous to humans and can cause nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting. They contain galantamine, lethal in large quantities but used in very small amounts as a medicine for treating Alzheimer's disease and vascular dementia. Apparently, scientists have studied the plant and found that it contains properties that can protect brain cells from damaging toxins.

Dividing and Replanting Snowdrops

Snowdrops make a great gift for your friends, so divide them properly and you should have plenty to share.

  • You should divide your snowdrop clumps every other year. Doing so will reduce the competition between plants and create ideal growing conditions.
  • Divide your snowdrops in early spring – right after the flowers have faded but the leaves are still green.
  • Using a garden fork, lift each clump gently and then use your fingers to take apart the individual plants. Be very careful not to stick the tines of the fork through your bulbs.
  • Gently shake off the soil around the roots so that you have a clear view of what you will be dividing.
  • Remove individual bulbs, leaving both roots and leaves attached.
  • If you see any bulblets, separate those away from the parent bulb. If they are in good condition, they too can form new plants, although they make take a little bit longer to form than the larger bulbs.
  • Transplant them as soon as possible.

Helpful Tips

  • Plant several close to your house so you can enjoy looking at them without going out in the winter weather.
  • Purchase a lot of them and plant them en masse in soil with some peat added.
  • Divide them just after they flower, rather than waiting for their leaves to fade.

Various Species of Snowdrops

The most well-known snowdrop is Galanthus nivalis, which is one of the most cultivated species and also known as the common snowdrop. One of the largest snowdrops is the Galanthus elwesii. The following is a list of some of the other species of snowdrops:

  • Galanthus krasnovii: Extremely rare species
  • Galanthus platyphyllus
  • Galanthus panjutinii: An endangered species
  • Galanthus trojanus
  • Galanthus ikariae
  • Galanthus cilicicus
  • Galanthus gracilis
  • Galanthus peshmenii
  • Galanthus plicatus
  • Galanthus reginae-olgae: Also known as Autumn snowdrop
  • Galanthus fosteri
  • Galanthus lagodechianus
  • Galanthus rizehensis
  • Galanthus woronowii
  • Galanthus allenii
  • Galanthus angustifolius
  • Galanthus alpinus
  • Galanthus koenenianus
  • Galanthus transcaucasicus
  • Galanthus samothracicus

References

  1. Heriteau, Jacqueline (1990), The National Arboretum Book of Outstanding Garden Plants, Simon and Schuster
  2. Petrova, Ing. Eva (1989), Flowering Bulbs (A Concise Guide in Color), Chartwell Books, Inc.

© 2018 Mike and Dorothy McKenney

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