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,  and the bulbs to dry out, there is a real risk 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.  

Plant Snowdrop bulbs about 10 cm deep, which is a little over 3 x the bulb depth, a handy rule of thumb for all bulbs. Ideal in semi shade, 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.  Snowdrop bulbs hate to be baked in the hot summer sun; select a planting spot which is cool and semi-shaded in the summer. 

Like Hellebores, snowdrops flowers hang down and sometimes it's 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. Professional growers sometimes display snowdrops with mirrors at the base to highlight the delicate flowers.

Snowdrops look good 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 ' They are also commonly planted with winter flowering Aconites for a bright display, see images below.

When is the best time to plant Snowdrops?

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

In the autumn, snowdrops are planted as bulbs. This is the cheapest way to get 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 hanging around for some time may well have dried out, which makes them more difficult to grow.

In late February/March Snowdrops are sold and planted ' in the green' which is after flowering but whilst the bulbs is still in leaf.  This is not as cheap as bulbs, but usually more successful. You can, of course, buy snowdrops in bloom in containers for an instant display. Cost is a factor with snowdrops, a good number are needed to make a display.   

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. 

 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.

Most snowdrops do bloom in February. But, it is worth baring in mind that snowdrops have a long flowering season. G.elwesii 'Peter  Gatehouse' and G. plicatus ' Three ships' flower in Nov/Dec. The Hiemalis group flowering in December, several varieties in January including G. elwesii 'Mrs Macnamara' and monostrictus. There are also late flowering varieties in March, G. plicatus 'Baxendale's Late' and even April, G. platyphyllus. So if you see a snowdrop flowering outside February, it may not be the weather, it may be the variety.

Best Snowdrops to Plant

Not all snowdrops are created equal.  In the image right the snowdrop flower is large with  bold green markings.  Given that snowdrops are a modest sized flower to start with, a small variety can be diminutive, and possibly disappointing.  Some reasonably sized varieties which 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 lists 10 award winning Snowdrops a good starting point when choosing varieties to plant.

large snowdrop with bold green markings
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, I took it in early February and it shows a honeybee foraging on snowdrops. 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.

My snowdrops have disappeared?

It is disappointing when the lovely display of snowdrops carefully planted last year fails to reappear.

The two most likely reasons are lack of water and squirrels.

Snowdrops do not like dry conditions, specially when they are getting established. Take care to plant in a spot which has partial shade, not too dry and you will find a good mulch invaluable at helping to retain moisture in the soil.

Squirrels, such a nuisance, they love all bulbs. Plant with a squirrel barrier which means mesh over the top to prevent the squirrel digging the bulbs up.

Where to see a Snowdrop display

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.

green  wheelbarrow medium difficulty to grow

Snowdrops are a  green wheelbarrow plant because althought they can be tricky to get established and need the right growing conditions to thrive, once they are trouble free and will mulitply.

Last updated 08.10.2022