Snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis) is one of the first harbingers of spring from the plant kingdom. Dazzling when massed over a large area, these tiny, delicate bulbs emerge just as the ground thaws from its winter slumber.
Snowdrops have thin, grass-like leaf blades just three or four inches long with a single flower stalk per bulb that produces a bell-shaped white blossom about six inches above the ground. Hardy in USDA zones 3 to 9, snowdrops are commonly available wherever bulbs are sold.
Snowdrops do best in partial sun, well-drained soil, and cool, moist conditions. They are considered one of the spring 'ephemerals', meaning they flower on the forest floor before the leaves of the trees emerge and by early summer they have gone dormant again until next year.
They may be grown in small pots, rock gardens or annual beds, but they are at their best when planted over a large area and allowed to spread on their own. Wildflower meadows and woodland gardens are prime places for naturalizing snowdrops, but they are small enough to be incorporated into lawns, as well, where they appear as specks of white across the green grass.
How to Plant
Snowdrops should be planted in fall. Place the bulbs two inches deep in loose soil with the tapered end pointed up. Space them every six to eight inches and they will quickly fill in to form a carpet.
Care for Snowdrops
Snowdrops are very low maintenance plants. They need moist conditions while they are growing and flowering though irrigation is rarely necessary as the ground is usually moist in late winter and early spring. During their dormant period in summer, it's best if the soil is not too wet. There is no need to clip off the dead foliage as it is so fine that it essentially shrivels up and disappears.
Pests and disease are not an issue, but it is difficult to establish snowdrop in hot, arid regions - they are at their best in cool climates.
A few named varieties of snowdrop have been developed, offering interesting alternatives to the typical white single-flowered variety.
- 'Lutescens' is white with a yellow center.
- 'Scharlockii' has a combination of white and green-striped petals.
- 'Flore Pleno' is a double-flowered version of the basic white form.
An Appealing Ephemeral
Snowdrops come and go in the blink of an eye, making them all the more magical. Clip off a handful when they are still in bud and enjoy a pint-sized bouquet indoors while you have the opportunity.