Snowdrops are often referred to by their Latin name – Galanthus. These hardy perennial, winter-flowering plants flower whatever the weather – they will even push through frozen, snow-covered ground.
Discover how to make a mossy snowdrop pot.
Although known for their small, white bell-shaped flowers there is an incredible range in the genus. Fanatics will make collections of plants with slightly different sized flowers, double flowers, different flower markings and subtle colour changes. To the amateur gardener, a snowdrop is a snowdrop, but to the expert each and every one is a collector’s item with a difference.
Snowdrops enjoy a position of dappled shade and often grow well at the foot of a deciduous hedge or under deciduous shrubs. They enjoy a soil that is humus rich – the best being one enriched with leaf mould. Plants will not thrive in a soil that dries out in summer. Flowering plants are often bought for a winter container display – ideally these should be planted into the garden in spring once the foliage has started to yellow. Snowdrops are often planted in grass, under deciduous shrubs or in a rock garden.
Dry bulbs can be planted in the autumn. However, bulbs are often hard to establish. Planting snowdrops ‘in the green’ is often more successful. Plants are lifted just after flowering and before the foliage has turned yellow. ‘In the green’ plants are sold in bundles with their roots packed in moist bark or similar. Plant at the same depth that they were before they were lifted. You should be able to find a soil mark. Water plants in and leave the foliage to remain uncut. Read more on planting snowdrops ‘in the green’.
Established clumps of snowdrops can be lifted and divided after flowering in March or April. With a hand fork carefully lift the bulb (with roots intact) and foliage still in place. Replant in the garden straight away. Water and don’t worry if the foliage looks a bit sorry, as by next winter they should be healthy and strong. Watch our video on dividing snowdrops in the spring.
When planting fresh bulbs in the autumn squirrels and mice will be on the hunt for food. Don’t be surprised if your new bulbs have been dug up by them. To prevent squirrels from feasting make a wooden frame with chicken wire at the centre. Place the wire frame over the soil where you have planted the bulbs to allow them to establish. Remove once bulbs start to show signs of leaf growth. This might not stop mice!
Once snowdrops are established there is no maintenance required. Leave them well alone. You don’t even need to cut the foliage back. Leaving the foliage to yellow and die back is better for the bulbs than being too hasty with your secateurs. Well established clumps can be divided in March or April.
Snowdrop varieties to try
- Galanthus nivalis (pictured) – this is the common single snowdrop and is the best ‘starter’ snowdrop. If this one likes your soil, so will the others. Naturalises well. Flowers in February that reach 14cm
- Galanthus ‘S.Arnott’ – prized for its larger and scented February flowers. Reaches a height of 20cm
- Galanthus ‘Atkinsii’ – the honey-scented flowers often appear as early as January. The smaller inner petals have a distinctive green marking. Reaches a height of 20cm
- Galanthus nivalis f. pleniflorus ‘Flore Pleno’ – a reliable double form with the same growing habit as the common snowdrop. Galanthus plicatus – slightly silver tinge to the foliage. A good self-seeder. February flowers. Reaches a height of 20cm