Favorite Flora: Snowdrops


By Debra Knapke

Snowdrops are usually the first breath of spring in the late winter garden.  The distinctive leaves often emerge through the snow and are quickly followed by the nodding white flowers that are marked with kelly green on the inner petals.  In the riotous spring and summer season, these diminutive bulbs might go unnoticed; in the winter, they are stars.

This has been a winter for the record books.  Snowdrops have been in bud and bloom since the first week of January in my garden.  Usually I say that these early blooming bulbs will grace your garden for 4-6 weeks depending on the weather and the cultivars that you plant.  I’m now counting eight weeks and they are still in their glory.

In the above picture, you can see that the front plants are in bloom while the ones in back have gone to seed.  It is not unusual to have some bulbs bloom later than others.  While you may have started with all of the same cultivar or species, snowdrops will self-seed, and then the fun begins.  You will see variation among the flowers such as different heights; changes in the green accents; different sizes and widely open to closed blooms.  Snowdrops are loved by the gardeners of England and theses variations are cherished.

Snowdrops are poisonous to most animals.  A notable exception is slugs.  Take a close look at the picture and you will see that these flowers have been visited by the land mollusk we love to hate.  In a cold winter, slugs are not an issue; in a warm winter or when snowdrops bloom later in a warm early spring, watch out.

A note about propagation:  When your clumps produce fewer flowers it is time to lift, separate and replant the bulbs.  Do this while they are “in-the-green”.  This is the stage when the blooms have dropped and the seeds are beginning to form.  They will droop initially, but they will recover.

In the language of flowers, snowdrops represent hope and constancy probably because they often emerge in the late winter when we are all pining for spring, and, this year especially, they grace the garden for a long time.

3 responses to “Favorite Flora: Snowdrops

  1. Jane

    Delightful presentation, Denise! Does your advice about lifting these bulbs “in the green” and separating also apply to daffodils that have stopped blooming? Should they be fed a little topping of bulb fertilizer when they are separated and replanted?

    • Debra Knapke

      Thank you. For daffodils, wait until the leaves have begun to turn yellow. This is a signal that the leaves are done doing their job of sending food down to the bulbs. At that point you can lift the plants, separate the bulbs and replant. I like to mix compost into the area where the bulbs are planted. Then, I topdress with a layer of compost. I am cautious about using bulb fertilizers that contains bone meal. This attracts squirrels and chipmunks to the newly planted bulb area. Even without bone meal, squirrels and chipmunks seem to know when bulbs have been planted, I’m guessing they “notice” the freshly turned soil. — Debra

  2. Carolyn

    I love Snowdrops! Tucked into the Cascade foothills of the PNW, mine are just coming in to bloom.

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