How to Plant and Grow Snowdrops

Nothing says late winter like snowdrops.

Snowdrops are a woodland plant, which means their ideal growing conditions are partial shade, moist but well-drained soil. This is important because if the soil is too dry, allowing the bulbs to dry out, they will fail the following year. As a woodland plant, snowdrops are tolerant of partial shade, which makes them suitable for under planting among trees and shrubs. This also gives summer protection against the soil drying out too much. 

Plant Snowdrop bulbs about 10 cms deep, which is a little over 3 x the bulb depth, which is a handy rule of thumb for planting all bulbs. Ideal in semi shade with well drained a mulch of leaf mould will help to retain moisture. Planting the bulbs a little deeper can also help to prevent the bulbs from drying out. They hate to be baked in the hot summer sun, which means picking a planting spot which is also cool and semi-shaded in the summer.

Snow drops do not grow well in containers and although sold in containers is best to plant them as soon as you can. Snowdrops are fully hardy, as you may expect. If snowdrops are in pots, the container can freeze and the snowdrop may not survive. 

Like Hellebores, snowdrops flowers hang down and it can sometimes be hard to see the lovely flower markings inside. For this reason, they are ideal for planting in a wall, or a bank, so that the flowers clearly displayed.

Snowdrops look best planted in drifts to form clumps as illustrated centre. I have seen them planted to great effect around the foot of Himalayan Birch (Betula utilis) where the white bark chimes with the white of the snowdrops (see image below) The most popular varieties of Betula utilis var. jacquemontii, the Himalayan Birch, which have the RHS award of garden merit are: 'Doorenbos' 'Jermyns' 'Silver Shadow' and 'Grayswood Ghost '


Best Snowdrops to Plant

It is worth checking the variety of Snowdrop as not all snowdrops are created equal. Some are much smaller than others. Given that snowdrops are a small with  modest sized flowers to start with, a small variety can be diminutive, and possibly disappointing.  Some reasonably sized varieties to consider which also have the RHS Award of Garden Merit are: G. 'S. Arnott' which is fragrant, G.elwesii slightly smaller and sometimes scented, G. Atkinsii, G.'Straffan' and G. 'Ophelia' both of which usually have two flowers per bulb; and G Ailwyn'. G. plicatus 'Wendy's Gold' is unusual, white with bright yellow ovary and pedicel and also G. ' Rodmarton' which is an early double snowdrop with very distinctive green inner petals; these are just a few of the dozens of varieties on sale. It is worth checking out the size of the Snowdrop offered for sale and choose one of the larger varieties. 
The RHS has 10 award winning Snowdrops listed another good starting point when choosing varieties to plant.

When is the best time to plant Snowdrops

 Snow drops can be planted at different times of the year.

In the autumn, snowdrops bulbs are on sale ready for planting. This is the cheapest way to acquire snowdrops, but not always the most successful. Snowdrops bulbs seem to be harder to get going than other bulbs. Few suppliers will give an assurance that the bulbs are freshly lifted. Bulbs which have been in garden centres and hanging around for some time may well have dried out, which makes them more difficult to grow. Buying Snowdrops " in the green avoids" this problem and can be more successful, although more expensive.

Snowdrops sold in pots during the winter can be planted out into the garden and this is a good way of getting them going. Growing Snowdrops in containers permanently is not ideal because, as with all container-grown plants, they will be more prone to drying out which is fatal for Snowdrops.

One of the best times to plant snowdrops is in the spring, when they "in the green" which is usually after flowering but whilst still in leaf around late Feb/ March time. This is not as cheap as bulbs, but less expensive than buying snowdrops ready to bloom in containers. Cost is a factor as with snowdrops a good number are needed to make a display 2/3 will be lost in a garden.  

Whether planting as established plants or in the green, plant to the same depth. This means planting so that the white part of the stem is underground.  The same soil level as the container or the white stem which has previous been underground. Given that they flower during January -February, the best time to buy Snowdrop plants is in March and April and plant out straight away. 

 Dormant bulbs can be planted in the summer, bulbs are always cheaper than plants but less reliable. In addition, squirrels like the Snowdrop bulbs as well.

Honeybee and snowdrops

Early pollinators

Plants are often listed as good for pollinators and bees. I always like to show that it's actually true and that the plant really benefits bees. So although this is not the best photograph, it shows a honeybee foraging on snowdrops taken early in February. Although a cold time of year, a mild day will bring out the bees enjoying early flowering plants, snowdrops, hellebores, and crocus are all ideal.

My snowdrops have finished. Can I mow the lawn?

Snowdrops look lovely naturalised in the lawn and will multiply over a number of years to make a great winter carpet.

The question is, after flowering, when to mow the lawn? Snowdrops may not finish flowering until February/early March, depending on variety, and meanwhile the lawn is ready for its first mow of the season. Snowdrops are like all bulbs, as they die back the leaves feed the bulbs forming for next year's flowers. If you mow the lawn, and with it the snowdrop leaves, you will impair the leaves' ability to feed the bulb and store the nutrients for next year. 

In short, don't mow until the leaves have turned yellow.

Where to see a Snowdrop display

If you do not have suitable growing conditions for snowdrops, there are plenty of gardens to visit with Snowdrop displays. In February, it is great to get out for a walk and see some snowdrops. There are many gardens around the country which have impressive displays and a good starting point to find a garden near you is the Country life has a good article on this, and the lovely image of Snowdrops with the white bark of the birch is on display at Dunham Massey in Cheshire in the winter park.

The National Garden Scheme also has a Snowdrop festival in February with about 90 gardens all over the country open to view how fellow gardens grow and display their Snowdrops. You can find a Snowdrop garden near you, and with every visit you will be donate to important charities such as Marie Curie, Hospice UK, Macmillan and more.

Ideal Snowdrop planting combinations

Snowdrops and Hellebores

Snowdrops and Hellebores

An ideal winter planting combination is snowdrops and hellebores.  Both plants enjoy a degree of shade and soil that does not dry out too much.

Snowdrops and Witch hazel

Snowdrops and Witchhazel

A bright winter combination of witch hazel, hamamelis and snowdrops, both of which enjoy woodland conditions and partial shade.

Snowdrops and Winter aconites

Snowdrops and winter aconites

Eranthis hyemalis, winter aconites are a yellow flowering perennial which are a member of the buttercup family and flower early in the year.

Snowdrops and iris reticulata

Snowdrops and iris reticulata

The early tiny Iris reticulata flowers in winter and makes a great companion for snowdrops. It is also a hardy perennial.

amber wheelbarrow medium difficulty to grow

Snowdrops are more of an amber wheelbarrow plant than green, as they can be tricky to get established and need the right growing conditions to thrive. Whilst they are maintenance free, they do not always grow well except in ideal conditions. Once established, they are trouble free.

Updated 06.02.2022