How to Plant and Grow Snowdrops

Nothing says late winter like Snowdrops.

Snowdrops are a woodland plant which means ideal growing conditions are partial shade and moist but well-drained soil preferably with some leaf mould in it. It is because Snowdrops are a woodland plant they are tolerant of partial shade and suitable for under planting among trees and shrubs.   

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. It is important that Snowdrop bulbs do not dry out in the summer, which is a common cause of Snowdrop failure;  they need semi shade with well drained but moisture retentive soil. Snowdrops love a mulch of leaf mould to retain moisture.  Planting bulbs deeper can also help to prevent the bulbs drying out. They hate to be baked in the hot summer sun.

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. Even so, if Snowdrops are in pots the container can freeze and the snowdrop may not survive. 

Like Hellebores, Snowdrops 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 are well displayed.

Snowdrops look at their best planted in drifts to form clumps as illustrated centre and right. I have seen them planted to great effect around the foot of Himalayan Birch (Betula utilis) where the white bark which 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 '


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, which is the cheapest method 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 can dry 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 particularly fatal for Snowdrops.

The best time to plant Snowdrops is in the spring, when they are planted "in the green" which is usually after flowering but whilst still in leaf around March time. This is not as cheap as bulbs, but less expensive than buying Snowdrops ready to bloom in containers and is a good way of getting Snowdrops established.  

If planting either 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.  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. The risk with bulbs, and especially so for Snowdrops, is drying out. A moist soil and a mulch of leaf mould is a good growing medium. In addition, squirrels like the Snowdrop bulbs as well.

My snowdrops have finished can I mow the lawn?

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

The question is, when they have finished 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 donating to important charities such as Marie Curie, Hospice UK, Macmillan and more.

Best Snowdrops to Plant

It is worth checking the variety of Snowdrop as not all Snowdrops were created equal. Some are much smaller than others. Given that Snowdrops are a small plant to start with a small variety can be diminutive, and possibly a bit 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' which usually has two flowers per bulb; G Ailwyn' are just a few of the dozens of varieties on sale.


amber wheelbarrow medium difficulty to grow

Snowdrops are more of an amber wheelbarrow 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 18.11.2020