Widely considered to be the curtain-raiser for the gardening year, snowdrops produce their beautifully delicate white flowers from January onwards, and they have long been regarded as a sign that Spring will soon be on its way. And whether you have a sweeping snowdrop carpet or strategically placed groups, the sight of these lovely little drops of snow never fails to lift the spirit!
Easy to grow and to look after, we’ve put together our guide to these stunning garden stalwarts…
Snowdrops are easy to grow, and there are a huge number of cultivars and clones available. They prefer a site in dappled shade, where the soil is well-drained but does not completely dry out during the Summer, and they are equally at home in grass too. Wherever you plant them, be sure to leave the foliage to die back naturally, so that the bulbs have a chance to make and store all the food they’ll need for the next year of flowering.
Snowdrops can be planted as bulbs from September to October, and bulbs should be purchased and planted as soon as they’re available to give them the best start. But don’t worry if you didn’t get around to planting bulbs last year, as you can also buy them ‘in the green’ as clumps of leafy plants which have already flowered – these should also be planted immediately and will flower the following year.
Once planted they increase freely, producing new bulbs as offsets and after a few years it’s possible to create a wonderfully large drift.
There are four ways to propagate snowdrops – by lifting clumps as the foliage turns yellow and dividing into smaller pieces with as little disturbance as possible – by sowing seeds as soon as they are ripe (they’ll germinate as temperatures rise after Winter) – by twin scaling, where pairs of scales which make up the bulb are placed in a damp environment to encourage them to make new bulbs – and by chipping, which produces flowering plants more quickly than twin scaling.
Top Snowdrop Facts
- Widespread throughout Europe and Asia, they are widely considered to have entered the British Isles in the 16th century and many different varieties are produced sustainably in the UK.
- The bulbs are poisonous if eaten – not that you’re likely to be tempted we’re sure!
- Their leaf tips are hardened so that they are able to push through frozen soil and they shoot up early to flower before they are swamped by surrounding grass or trees above cut off their sunshine.
- Snowdrops come in varieties with either a single or double flowers – where double means you get twice the number of petals (or more) in a single flower. Single varieties have three large petals with three smaller petals in between – these usually have green marking – and then inside the flower you find stamens and the ovary. In double flowers, the parts that would normally be stamens are present as smaller petals instead.
- They produce their own chemical ‘weapon’ to avoid being eaten in the form of snowdrop lectin, a substance which causes insect pests to stop eating. It is considered so effective that research has also been conducted into the possibility of introducing it to other crops to increase their resistance to insect pests!
- Research carried out by monitoring at Kew Gardens has revealed that snowdrops are flowering earlier – in the 1950s they emerged around the end of February but since the 1990s they have appeared in January.