Snowdrops are an attractive, early spring or late winter flower. When planted in swathes, either alone or alongside other early season bulbs such as daffodils and crocuses, they bring early season color to winter gardens.
The snowdrop (Galanthus) happily grows in moderate and colder climates. These are hardy low maintenance, bulbs, ideal for planting in USDA zones 3 to 8. Growers in warmer areas, such as Florida or South California may struggle to successfully cultivate snowdrops. But if your garden enjoys an annual cold snap, the snowdrop could be an ideal addition.
Often one of the first flowers to emerge, Galanthus is an attractive addition to any garden.
A perfect shade loving plant, this guide will take you through everything you need to know, from sourcing your bulbs all the way to after flower care. This is your complete guide to planting snowdrops.
Where to Source your Snowdrops
Always purchase plants and bulbs from a reputable supplier.
Most garden centers and home improvement stores sell galanthus bulbs. However, if you want a more unusual or specialist variety you may need to order your plants from a nursery.
You can buy snowdrops either as bulbs or as young plants. While bulbs are often cheaper they can be more difficult to establish.
Snowdrop bulbs are often sold undried, or in the green. Because they are often sold wet, snowdrop bulbs are often only available for a short period of time, usually in late spring. Plant green bulbs as soon after purchasing as possible. Don’t allow them to dry out.
While some bulbs can be expensive, don’t assume that these are better. Cheaper bulbs are often quicker to multiply and form large clumps.
Young snowdrop plants are often easier and cheaper to source. Plants purchased in the fall can either be planted in the fall or kept in their pots overwinter and planted out in the spring. Just be careful to ensure that the soil in the pot doesn’t freeze.
Different Varieties of Snowdrops
Despite their distinctive appearance, snowdrops come in a wide range of styles. In addition to tall and short varieties you will also find large, single and double flowering cultivars. Some varieties even have patterned petals.
The foliage of the plants can also vary from green to grey. Some cultivars produce long, thin leaves while others produce thicker, stubby foliage.
Galanthus nivalis is the naturalised snowdrop. It produces slim, tidy flowers above silvery green leaves. A durable cultivar that is quick to establish itself in most soil types, G. nivalis grows in sun or partial shade positions. Flowering from early February onwards, depending on the growing conditions, the plant can reach a height of 6 to 12 inches and a spread of 4 to 6 inches.
G. nivalis Flore Pleno is the double naturalised snowdrop. Like G. nivalis it is quick to establish itself and easy to divide. Blooming earlier than the single flowering variety, this cultivar has a spread of 5 to 9 inches and can reach a height of 10 inches.
S.Arnott is one of the largest commercially available cultivars. Producing pure white flowers that smell of honey, it is a popular cultivar with pollinators. Arnott enjoys a spread of 7 to 12 inches and a similar height.
G. elwesii is native to Greece, Turkey and Yugoslavia. In appearance it is similar to the naturalised G. nivalis cultivar. However G. elwesii flowers earlier in the season, often in January. Achieving a height and spread of 6 to 12 inches, G. elwesii is also quicker to form clumps than other cultivars. This is a great choice if you want to create a carpet of flowers.
The hybrid cultivar G. Magnet is ideal in zones 3 to 8. Flowering from February to March it is a small variety, reaching a height of no more than 6 inches. Its white inner petal is marked with a light green v.
While the varieties may all look similar there are a number of differences. As well as size and growth habit you will notice, upon closer inspection, that some, such as G. Magnet, have distinctive markings on their petals.
Atkinsii is a compact cultivar. Ideal for smaller or container gardens it reaches a height and spread of 8 to 10 inches. Flowering in February the plant produces white flowers, the petals of which are marked with an inverted heart shape.
Some varieties can be slower to clump up but are more suited to growing in pots. Grumpy is one such variety, producing flowers the inner petals of which have markings that look like a grumpy face. Walrus is another attractive variety. It is so called because its thin outer petals are said to resemble a walrus’s tusks and whiskers.
Where to Plant
Plant your bulbs in a moist, well draining position. Under a tree or shrub or along the shady side of your house is ideal. Planting in a shady position helps to keep the dormant bulbs cool during the summer months.
By the end of spring your snowdrop bulbs will become dormant, leaving no visible trace above ground. Try to remember where you have planted the bulbs. You don’t want to accidentally disturb or damage them when digging the flower beds later in the year. This can harm the bulbs and ruin your early spring floral display. Plastic Plant Labels are a great,and durable, way to mark where bulbs are planted.
Snowdrops do best in shady positions, making them ideal for cottage garden and woodland planting schemes.
Planting a hosta or fern plant next to the snowdrops also helps to prevent accidental disturbance. As the snowdrops fade the large plant grows, covering the bare soil where the snowdrop bulbs sit.
How to Plant Snowdrops
Before planting work the soil over, removing any weeds or large stones. This is also the ideal time to enrich your soil by working in dried manure or compost. A 5-10-10 granular fertilizer can also be worked into the soil.
Use a good shovel to dig a hole, roughly 10 inches deep, in the soil. It should be large enough to hold the snowdrop bulb. There should be about 5 inches of soil between the top of the bulb and the soil level. Plant the bulb flat base down. The skinny nose should point up to the sky.
Cover the bulb with soil and firm down. Water well.
If you are planting more than one bulb, space the bulbs about 4 inches apart. If you want a pleasing display, or are planting for groundcover, you will need to plant a swathe of at least 20 bulbs.
Planting in Pots
You can also plant snowdrops in pots but they may not flower as profusely as when planted in the ground or a raised bed.
If you want to plant a mass of bulbs select a large pot. You can also plant individual bulbs in single pots. Plant in a clean pot that has plenty of drainage holes in the bottom.
Fill the pot with well draining potting soil and plant as described above. Remember plants growing in pots may require more frequent watering than those in the ground. Planting in self watering containers helps to create a low maintenance but attractive garden.
Planting Young Plants
Young plants can also be planted in the ground or in pots. Prepare the soil as described above.
Make a hole in the soil large enough to hold the plant. The plant, when placed in the hole, should sit at the same depth as when it was in the original container.
Once the plant is correctly positioned, backfill the hole and water well.
Caring for Snowdrops
Once established the plants are pleasingly easy to care for.
Regularly weed around the bulbs. Be careful not to disturb the bulbs as you weed. Weeds can grow quickly smothering other plants and starving them of light and moisture.
Be careful when weeding not to disturb or damage the bulbs.
When to Water
Snowdrops rarely require watering. Water only when the soil dries out, for example during prolonged dry spells. If you are growing in pots you may need to water the soil during the summer months.
Fertilizing Galanthus Bulbs
Fertilize with an evenly balanced plant food as the flowers begin to fade. This helps the bulbs to store enough energy to survive the winter and return again the following year.
Either apply one dose of granular food or regularly water with a liquid plant food. If you are using a liquid fertilizer, continue to apply regularly until the foliage starts to die away.
A dose of potassium rich fertilizer every 10 days from the time foliage appears until it begins to yellow also helps to promote healthy growth.
Finally, apply a layer of organic mulch around the plants in the fall. This helps to enrich the soil, giving your growing bulbs a further nutritional boost.
How to Prune your Plants
A low maintenance flower, there is no need to prune these plants. Allow the foliage to naturally die away.
Once the foliage has yellowed and is no longer actively storing sunlight, the leaves can be cut away if you desire.
A hardy plant, there is no need to protect snowdrops planted in the ground in USDA Zones 3 to 8. Unlike other bulbs they do not require lifting.
A layer of organic mulch applied in the fall can protect the bulbs from deep frosts. As the mulch breaks down it also enriches the bulbs. Remember to remove the mulch from the soil above the bulbs in early January. This helps the new shoots to emerge.
A horticultural fleece can also be used. The Agribon Floating Frost Blanket protects plants from cold weather but is also permeable, meaning that covered plants can still get plenty of light and moisture.
Snowdrops are pleasingly hardy, preferring cooler temperatures.
Plants in containers may also require mulching or covering with a blanket to prevent the soil from freezing in cooler temperatures.
Can I Propagate my Flowers?
Snowdrops don’t set seed and spread through a garden. Instead they multiply by producing offsets. An offset is a new bulb that is formed on the main or mother bulb.
After a couple of years of steady growth the bulb clump will be quite dense. Separating the clumps gives you a collection of fresh bulbs that can be planted elsewhere in your garden.
Snowdrop bulbs can sometimes rise to the surface. This is a sign of overcrowding and is an indication that it is the perfect time to lift the clumps of bulbs and divide. The bulbs that are closer to the surface are new bulbs. If left undivided they are slowly pushed from the soil and naturally disperse, setting down roots nearby. Lifting and dividing bulbs simply helps this process.
Separating the offsets is easy. Simply allow the flowers to fade. While the leaves are still green and healthy carefully lift the bulbs. Separate the bulbs and replant immediately.
Common Pests and Problems
Snowdrops are pleasingly pest and problem free. Grey mold or damping off may occur if planted in poorly draining soil.
The bulbs are also rarely troubled by pests. Rabbits and deer avoid them, as do most chipmunks and mice.
Companion planting is the practice of organising your garden so that mutually beneficial plants are growing together. While snowdrops are an attractive plant on their own, planting in combination with other plants helps to create a truly eye-catching display.
Hellebores are a popular snowdrop partner choice because the plants tend to share the same flowering time and thrive in similar conditions. Additionally the leaves of the hellebore provide summer shade, helping to keep the snowdrop bulbs cool. Plant snowdrops in front or to the side of hellebores not amongst them. Hellebores form dense clumps that can smother or overcrowd galanthus plants if planted too closely together.
Snowdrops can be mixed with other bulbs to create an attractive spring display.
Low growing spring bulbs such as cyclamens, crocus, anemones, daffodils and irises are also great choices. Planting a combination of these bulbs allows you to create a colorful floral carpet in an otherwise dormant garden.
You can also try interplanting low maintenance perennial plants such as peonies, oriental poppies and false indigo for an attractive late winter and spring display.
Sedums, crocus and cyclamens are reliable choices for fall and early winter color.
Fragrant shrubs and trees such as honeysuckle and witch hazel or cherry dogwoods are also good companion plants. Planted alongside snowdrops helps to introduce color and fragrance to otherwise bare, late winter spaces.
Coral bells, ferns, hostas, sedges and ornamental grasses can all be used to create green backdrops to showcase your swathe of snowdrops.
Plants to Avoid
Snowdrops do best when they have room to thrive. This means that you should avoid planting close to potentially overbearing plants, such as ivy, that may starve them of light, nutrients or water.
Avoid planting near dense or large evergreens such as conifers. Boxwood or Japanese Holly are less dense and are better options.
Plants that produce thick carpets of roots such as Pulmonarias, epimediums and vigorous geraniums, can also disrupt snowdrops. The fresh roots may struggle to force their way through the thick root system.
Finally, avoid planting your snowdrops near herbaceous perennials that require dividing regularly such as asters, bee balm and daylilies.
Attractive and resilient, these are pleasingly low maintenance bulbs that reliably bring early spring color to the garden.
Ideal for underplanting or growing in swathes in beds and borders. Snowdrops work well in a range of planting schemes from formal courtyard gardens to flower filled country cottage spaces.
A reliable, old favorite, snowdrops have long been a popular way to bring early season color and interest to the garden. Great for shady groundcover, the delicate bell shaped flowers emerging in a barren garden are a sure sign that spring is on its way.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.