How to Plant and Grow Snowdrops

Nothing says February more than Snowdrops.

Snowdrops look lovely in a natural setting and their ideal growing conditions are partial shade in moist but well-drained soil. Snowdrops are a woodland plant,  which makes them tolerant of partial shade and suitable for under planting among trees and shrubs.  The bulbs need to be planted about 10 cms deep, which is a little over 3 x the bulb depth which is the rule of thumb, but it is important Snowdrop bulbs do not dry out in the summer. This is a common cause of Snowdrop failure,  they do 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.

Snowdrops look at their best planted in drifts to form clumps and in the illustration right they were planted to great effect with a Birch which has white bark. 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 '

Snow drops are not that happy in containers although many are sold that way it is best to plant up as soon as you can. Snowdrops are fully hardy as you may expect, but surprisingly if kept 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.

When is the best time to plant Snowdrops

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

In the autumn Snowdrops are sole as dry bulbs to be planted, which is the cheapest method but not always the easiest; Snowdrops bulbs seem to be harder to get going than other bulbs. Few suppliers will be unable to 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 does make them more difficult to grow. To avoid this problem  buying Snowdrops in the green can be more successful, although more expensive

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

Probably 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 in pot and is a good way of getting Snowdrops established.  

If planting either 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 plants (available at this time on line and mail order) "in the green" is 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 for Snowdrops, is drying out and so a moist soil and a mulch of leaf mould is a good growing medium. In addition, squirrels like the Snowdrop bulbs as well.

The Best time to buy Snowdrops 'in the green' is in February and March and Thompson and Morgan have some great Snowdrops on offer. Check out fabulous plants at great prices including a double flowering variety, Galanthus nivalis f. pleniflorus 'Flore Pleno'

Where to see a Snowdrop display

If you do not have the ideal growing conditions there are plenty of gardens to visit with Snowdrop displays. In February when winter takes a small step back 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 National Trust top spots for snowdrops, Country life has a good article on this,   and the lovely image top right of snow drops and the clear white bark of the birch is to be found at Dunham Massey in Cheshire in the winter park.

The NGS 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.

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 quite 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 just a bit 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.