how to plant, grow & care for snowdrops
complete growing guide
Snowdrops have become increasingly fashionable over the years, with rare cultivars fetching very high prices. Now you can find a wide range of singles and doubles with green dots and dashes that, should you be prepared to get down on your hands and knees, mark them out as more and more desirable. Grown in a pot, or cut for a vase, their subtle beauty and fragrance can be appreciated with a little more comfort.
We sell a range of snowdrop bulbs for autumn planting, but we also sell snowdrop bulbs in the green that are ready to settle in over the summer and flower for you early next spring.
- Common name Snowdrop
- Latin name Galanthus
- Type Hardy Bulb
- Height 15cm (6in)
- TLC rating Easy
- Aspect Shade, Part Shade
- Planting position Ground cover under trees and shrubs
- Suitable for pots Yes
- Good for pollinators Yes
- Good for cut flowers Yes
how to grow snowdrops
where to grow snowdrops
Soil type: Snowdrops are tolerant of most soils but prefer it moist and well-drained with plenty of leaf mould.
Aspect & position: As a woodland plant, snowdrops prefer shade under deciduous trees or shrubs, but they will also grow in a more open site as long as the soil doesn’t dry out in the summer.
when to plant snowdrops
You can plant snowdrop bulbs in the autumn and winter for flowers in late winter and early spring. Alternatively, you can buy snowdrops as bulbs in the green in the spring. Planting snowdrops in the green can help the plant to establish better than if they were planted as bulbs in their dormant state.
how to plant snowdrops
planting snowdrop bulbs
Plant your snowdrop bulbs as early as possible in August or September, 10-15cm (4-6in) deep and about 10cm (4in) apart. If you can’t plant your bulbs in the early autumn, it is still possible to plant them in October & November. Once planted, leave the bulbs undisturbed for a few years until they start to look overcrowded, then split and replant.
planting snowdrops in the green
Snowdrops often do better when planted ‘in the green’ (already growing), in the spring, rather than in their dormant state. They settle in quickly and should start to flower from the following year. When your bulbs arrive in the spring you should plant them out as soon as possible before they dry out.
Dig a hole deep and wide enough to cover the roots and plant them at the level they were planted before they were lifted, which you’ll see from where the leaves turn white. Space snowdrops 6-8cm apart. Water in well after planting.
growing snowdrops in a pot
Snowdrops can look really effective in a shallow half-pot on a garden table where you can appreciate their scent and delicate markings. Plant in a good rich compost mixed with leaf mould, and water whilst they are in flower. Store the pot out of the sun once the leaves have died down as the bulbs hate to dry out. Do not leave in the pot for more than two years, transplant into the garden where they can multiply happily.
how to care for snowdrops
If you have picked a good spot where the soil is left undisturbed your snowdrops will need very little attention during the year. Over time they will gradually self-sow and naturalise. Sometimes the young bulbs rise to the soil surface, so a mulch of leaf mould as they begin to emerge in the early spring can be useful.
Large clumps can be lifted and divided whilst they are still in the green, to create large drifts. Wait for them to finish flowering, lift the whole clump with a fork and divide into smaller clumps of three or four bulbs. These can then be replanted at the same depth in areas which have been improved with leaf mould or compost. You’ll soon have a marvellous carpet of snowdrops to enjoy every spring.
- Plant snowdrops in the green
- Lift and divide large clumps as they finish flowering.
- Ensure potted snowdrops are stored in the shade and do not dry out.
- Plant snowdrop bulbs
- Mulch with well-rotted compost or leaf mould.
pests, diseases & common issues
Snowdrops are pretty problem free as they have adapted well to our climate since being introduced hundreds of years ago. However, there are a few things to watch out for.
snowdrop grey mould
Snowdrop grey mould is a fungal disease, Botrytis galanthina, that is specific to snowdrops. It creates a fuzzy grey mould on the necks and leaves of the plant as it emerges from the ground. It is exacerbated by mild wet winters. Destroy affected plants, and do not replant in the same area.
why are my snowdrops not flowering?
Your newly planted snowdrops will not flower in their first year if you have planted them “in the green”. They should flower in their second year.
Established snowdrops will subdivide and the new bulbils will not be big enough to flower for a few years. If they become very congested that could prevent them from flowering, so lift in late spring, divide the clump and replant in soil improved with compost.
why are my snowdrops not growing?
Again, if you planted your snowdrops in the green, they will not visibly grow in their first year. They will be establishing roots and feeding the bulb underground, ready to come into leaf and flower next year.
why are my snowdrops white?
If the snowdrop leaves are white this is because they have been starved of light during transportation. They should turn green as soon as they are transplanted and exposed to sunlight.
why have my snowdrops not come up?
It might be that your snowdrops failed to settle in after planting or they may have dried out before you managed to get them in the ground.
frequently asked questions
when do snowdrops flower?
Most snowdrops flower in late winter or early spring, there are a few varieties that flower in early winter, however.
how deep to plant snowdrops?
They should be planted about three times the depth of the bulb, so around 4cm is usually right.
what month to plant snowdrops?
Snowdrop bulbs hate to dry out, so if you are buying them, get them “in the green” which means they have been dug up after flowering and have to be sent out swiftly by the grower. However, if you are moving them from one area of your garden to another, as long as you get them straight back into the damp soil, they can be moved any time (preferably when they are dormant).
what does the snowdrop flower mean?
As the first flower of the new year, snowdrops symbolise hope and renewal. Their whiteness means purity and innocence. For some reason, the Victorians associated the snowdrop with death, probably because it grew very happily in churchyards. Consequently, it used to be thought unlucky if you brought the flowers indoors.
how should you store snowdrop bulbs?
The answer to that is you shouldn’t. Get them back in the ground as soon as possible as they hate to dry out.
how long do snowdrops flower for?
This is very dependent on the weather conditions during flowering. If it remains cold and damp the flowers can remain in good condition for up to a month. If they have started flowering and snow arrives, they will simply hold on and open once the snow disappears. If it gets warm and sunny and the bumble bees emerge to pollinate the flowers earlier than usual, then they will stop flowering and begin to set seed.
are snowdrop bulbs poisonous to dogs?
All parts of the snowdrops are mildly toxic which is why you will get very little trouble from pests (some growers apparently use pigs to spread the clumps by rootling through the undergrowth as they know they will not eat them). Dogs are similarly intelligent, so unlikely to eat more than will make them feel a bit queasy.
do squirrels eat snowdrop bulbs?
No, squirrels are far too cunning to eat something that is bad for them.
what conditions do snowdrops like?
As a woodland plant, snowdrops prefer to grow under deciduous shrubs and trees where the fallen leaves gradually improve the soil, and the shade prevents it from drying out. However, they will survive in the open as long as the soil is fairly rich and moist (hence the propensity for churchyards!)
how long does it take for snowdrops to grow?
It can take up to seven years for a snowdrop seedling to reach flowering stage. This is why we tend to buy them as bulbs, ready to flower the year after they are planted. Commercial growers will increase their stocks through a process called “twin-scaling” where they shave off a section of the bulb and its root plate and grow it on in laboratory conditions. Bulbs will divide naturally as well, so a clump will bulk up in three or four years and can be split and moved around the garden.
what to grow with snowdrops
Snowdrops will be the first to come into flower in the woodland garden, swiftly followed by the bright yellow aconites which will prolong the winter display. Next come the miniature bulbous irises, flowering in February and March in a wide range of blues and purples. All of these bulbs are set off nicely by the emerging marbled foliage of Arum italicum. They also partner well will hellebores, particularly if you remember to trim off the foliage as they come into bud which might otherwise hide the snowdrop.
how to cut & arrange snowdrops
Picked with a long stalk, these make beautiful cut flowers with a delicate fragrance. Sear the stem end in boiling water for 10 seconds, and then put them in deep cold water to extend their vase life for as long as possible.
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