Snowdrops

Snowdrops are one of the first flowers to emerge in late winter. Learn more about the origin and care of this popular bulb.
Snowdrops - Articles

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By Iris Wijngaarden - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2177868

Looking forward to spring? One of the first flowers you may see is the common snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis). The appropriately named snowdrop blooms in much of Pennsylvania in late February or March, often peeking up through a cover of snow.

Snowdrops, which are native to Europe and the Middle East, are very popular in the northern U.S. and have naturalized widely. Also common in Great Britain, visitors can take special tours where the naturalized flowers form impressive carpets of white blooms. There are even snowdrop festivals in Scotland. However, you do not need to travel abroad to attend one of these events. Consider traveling to Dowingtown, Pennsylvania, which has an annual Galanthus Gala.

A member of the Amaryllis family, snowdrops comprise a small genus (Galanthus) with about 20 species. The common snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis) grows only 3-6” tall, with linear leaves. The plants have a single small drooping bell-shaped flower with six white petal-like sepals arranged in two circles. The inner sepals are sometimes marked with green. The giant snowdrop (Galanthus elwesii) looks very similar, merely larger, growing from 14-16” tall.

Snowdrops prefer part shade to full sun, and benefit from a rich humus soil with good drainage. However, they will tolerate a variety of soils. Plant the bulbs in the fall about 2-3” deep. Snowdrops need a cold period, known as stratification, in order to bloom. Temperatures need to go below 20°, so you won’t see this plant growing in southern gardens. Nor will you see them in the far north, as they will not survive temperatures below minus 30°.

Snowdrops provide charm and a promise of spring in woodland settings and rock gardens alike. They may be planted under deciduous trees, as they will bloom and die back before the trees leaf out. Pretty planted in drifts of up to 25 bulbs, they will spread over time. To speed up propagation, one can carefully dig and divide them soon after they are done blooming.

Snowdrops have no serious insect or disease problems and are deer resistant. However, there is a caution for pets and children: the plants are poisonous if ingested. Some gardeners also report skin irritation and recommend gloves when handling.

So, plant snowdrops and look forward to seeing these beauties early every year. They are such a joy to see after a long gray winter.

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