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last updated Jan 4, 2012
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Snowdrops

For welcome assurance that the brighter days of spring are on their way, look no further than snowdrops (Galanthus). They are surprisingly varied in height, flower size, shape and even colouring. Given a moist soil they will multiply into drifts and provide plenty of plants to share with fellow gardeners.

Cultivation notes Back to top

Any garden can accommodate snowdrops;

  • Plant freshly-lifted snowdrops when the foliage is just dying back in late spring
  • If it is not possible to plant in late spring, buying just after flowering when the leaves are still green, (‘in the green’) is the next best way of establishing snowdrops. These are available from nurseries by mail order in bundles, or in individual pots
  • Snowdrop bulbs are very prone to drying out, so if sourcing bulbs from a nursery or garden centre is the only option, buy them as soon as they are available and plant immediately
  • Plant snowdrops in a partly-shaded position in a moist, but well-drained soil with leafmould or garden compost incorporated. It is important that the soil does not dry out in summer

Pruning and training Back to top

There are no requirements to prune or train snowdrops. Simply allow the foliage to die back naturally.

Propagation Back to top

There are four methods that can be used to propagate snowdrops.

Division

Lift and divide clumps as the foliage turns yellow. Split the clumps into smaller pieces with as little disturbance as possible. Bulbs can also be planted singly at the same depth as they were on the soil.

Seed

Collect and sow seed as soon as they ripen. Germination should take place as the temperatures start to rise after winter.

Twin scaling

This, more complex propagation method involves taking pairs of the scales (like layers of an onion) that make up the bulb and placing them in a damp environment to encourage each set of scales to make new bulbs.

  1. Use surgical gloves or wash hands thoroughly and use a sterilised cutting board and tools
  2. Remove outer brown scales (husk) and dead tissue and keep the basal plate intact. Slice off the nose of the bulb with a clean sharp knife
  3. With the bulb upside down, cut it vertically into half, then quarters. Each section must have a piece of the basal plate attached
  4. Peel back pairs of scales from each piece, cutting them free at the base with a scalpel, again with a piece of basal plate attached
  5. Place in a plastic bag with a 50:50 mix of slightly damp peat-substitute and perlite
  6. Shake the bag and fill with air before sealing and labelling
  7. Place in a warm (21°C/70°F), dark place for 12 weeks
  8. When bulblets appear at the base of the scales, pot them on individually, covered with their own depth of compost
  9. If the scales have gone soft, remove them from the bulblets before potting on. If the scales are still firm, or have roots coming from their base, leave them attached to the bulblets

Chipping

Snowdrops can be propagated by chipping which produces flowering plants more quickly than twin scaling. However twin scaling produces many bulbs in a short amount of time.

Cultivar Selection Back to top

Snowdrops are popular with gardeners and there are number to choose from in our RHS Plant Selector. Here are just a few;

  • Galanthus plicatus AGM – an easy species to grow. It is free-flowering and reaches a height of between 10 and 18cm (4-7in)
  • G. elwesii var. monostictus AGM – an elegant variety of Turkish origin. It has blue-grey leaves (glaucous) leaves and reaches a height of between 9 and 18cm (3½-7in)
  • G. ‘Atkinsii’ AGM – a popular but choice form, with delightful elongated flowers. It reaches a height of 21cm (8¼in)

Links

RHS Plant Finder
AGM plants

Problems Back to top

Squirrels digging up snowdrops planted as dry bulbs may be a problem.

Sometimes seedlings are lost through damping off which is caused by fungi and results in their collapse. Grey mould can affect snowdrops, especially in mild winters.

Quick facts

Common name Snowdrop
Botanical name Galanthus
Group Bulb
Flowering time January-March
Planting time Late April or May
Height and spread 12cm (5in) by 20cm (8in)
Aspect Partial shade
Hardiness Hardy
Difficulty Easy to Moderate
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