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The Joy of Gardening

Whether prairie plant or pansy, native or ornamental, gain insight into all aspects of gardening & wildlife.

Snowdrops– The Promise of Spring!

Posted by Kim Ellson - Gardening

All four seasons are enchantingly beautiful, each displaying its uniquely distinct character, to which winter is no exception. Yet as winter draws to an end, or for others perhaps even sooner, many are longing to feast their eyes on the luscious green of spring and to bathe their skin in that warm spring air. This is where snowdrops come into play, for they are one of the very first messengers that spring is indeed on its way, even if some years we might begin to wonder when winters have been harsh and unforgiving. These delicate yet hardy little bulbous perennials fiercely brave the elements, by not waiting for spring, instead delighting us in winter by poking their heads up through the snow. The narrow blade-like leaves can go completely unnoticed by many, until the characteristic nodding flower heads are formed. I myself am always caught by surprise when I spot them flowering, as if they appeared overnight! For those that planted them the previous autumn, even though a mere few months back, we forget so easily and they come as a delightful surprise. Others that have had them for many years will perhaps be patiently awaiting their arrival, constantly checking to see if they have reared their heads. Either way, having these delicate white flowers with their characteristic green markings blooming at a time when we ourselves do not even venture much outside, is truly priceless. Not only the timing of these hardy bulbs is exceptional, their beauty too is remarkable. Some flowers impress with large blooms, others wow us with bright colors, and some impress with a simple, delicate beauty, as is the case with Galanthus nivalis, the common snowdrop. Having been named by Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus himself, their Latin name means 'milk flower of the snow'. So beloved is this flower in the United Kingdom that there are gardens and festivals devoted to it including the Scottish Snowdrop Festival.

Snowdrops are native to Europe where they grow in woodlands, meadows, stony slopes and near rivers, bringing me to one of my favorite characteristics of snowdrops: I love how they can naturalize and take on that natural appearance. As these plants are not native to the USA please be vigilant to always keep plants contained within home gardens. It is vital to avoid plants becoming invasive in natural areas for although they are beautiful, they are of no value to native wildlife and should not replace native flora.

For those wanting to grow these beauties at home, be sure to provide them with a well-drained, humus rich, moist soil and partial shade as this will ensure ample blooming. An ideal location is beneath deciduous trees as this provides full sun when plants are growing and blooming, yet dappled shade for when the sun gains in intensity during springtime, and it is a way to utilize space beneath trees. If growing plants from bulbs autumn is the time to plant by simply randomly scattering bulbs and creating small groupings. Minimize bulb exposure to the elements as these are susceptible to drying and then plant 3-4" deep and roughly 2-3" apart. Plants will multiply via bulb division after several years if growing conditions are optimal and clumps will grow in size. Although snowdrops can be reproduced from seed it is seldom practiced and in nature few pollinators are present when snowdrops are in bloom. If clumps become too dense with time lift and divide bulbs following the bloom period to ensure blooming continues freely from year to year. Always be sure to let plants die back naturally to allow them to store energy for the following growth cycle. Fortunately snowdrops do not retain their leaves for long periods like tulips or daffodils.

Be sure not confuse snowdrops with snowflakes, Leucojum vernum. Although from the same family Amaryllidaceae, snowflakes bloom later and have larger, distinctly different flowers, with 6 equal tepals rather than 3 inner and 3 outer tepals.

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