By Matt Gibson
Snowdrop flowers are very small plants that grow to only three to six inches tall. Each plant produces one miniature white flower, with a diameter of one inch or less. Snowdrops are among the first flowers to bloom in the spring, sprouting up as early as January or February, depending on location. A low-growing perennial flower that is known to multiply and spread out over time, snowdrops often naturalize to accommodating environments to which they are introduced.
Snowdrop blooms droop down from their stems as if they are staring at the soil below them. When their blooms unfurl, the three outermost petals open widely, arching out around the three innermost petals, which only open slightly, forming a small shield around the flower’s center. The innermost petals are typically decorated with green splotches which often form upside-down hearts, or other simple designs.
Snowdrops are perfect candidates for group plantings, and they look great when planted next to each other. We recommend planting in groups of at least 10 to encourage clump formation, but snowdrops are also well suited to mass plantings if you have the room. If allowed to spread out naturally, snowdrops will eventually grow into large drifts which light up the landscape in the early spring.
Snowdrops also thrive in the shadows of large trees, basking in the filtered sunlight that reaches through the branches of the trees above. If you are looking for a pretty flowering plant that will grow under your black walnut tree, you have finally met your match. All true snowdrop varieties are immune to juglone toxicity, making them a natural fit for black walnut tree canopies.
Varieties of Snowdrop Flowers
Though there are 75 known varieties of snowdrops, and several hundred different cultivars, there is not a terrible amount of variance in their appearance, as the majority of the cultivars produce white flowers with a touch of green on the inner petals (There is at least one cultivar that produces yellow flowers). The different species can be distinguished by the green markings on their innermost three petals.
Snowdrops are available in single bloom and double bloom varieties. Only a handful of the known species of snowdrops are commonly cultivated. Here are the most popular varieties and a selection of lesser known cultivars that we recommend:
Abington Green Snowdrops – Abington Green snowdrops have true white broad outer petals, with inner petals that look as if they were given a stripe down the middle with a broad-tipped Marks-a-lot.
Armine Snowdrops – The Armine variety is taller than most cultivars, and has large foliage and produces large flowers. Its long, narrow outer petals are pure white, while its innermost petals are decorated with a green marking that looks like a face with two large oval eyes and a frowning mouth
Augustus Snowdrops – The eight-inch-tall Augustus cultivar is a prolific multiplier and quick spreader that seeds freely when healthy. It’s long outermost leaves appear textured. Its broad, dark, gray-green foliage provides a nice backdrop for its handsome blooms. The leaf edges bend back over themselves. The green markings on its interior petals vary in their location. They are found at the tip, at the base, and sometimes even cover entire sides of the innermost petals.
Jade Snowdrops – This cultivar is very popular because of its curved stems and the green tint that appears on its outermost flower petals. The stems of most varieties are erect, and the outermost petals of almost all other varieties are all-white.
Magnet Snowdrops – Abnormally long stalks emerge from narrow green-gray leaves, holding dainty, elegant blooms that sway in the wind due to their elevation. Magnet is a hybrid cross between the Augustus snowdrops species and the Walrus species. Magnet snowdrops can be distinguished by the very small, green marking found on its innermost petals.
Melanie Broughton Snowdrops – This cultivar has short, upright stems, topped with large, globular, drooping flower heads. The flowers have large, rounded outer petals and small, green inner petals with white bases.
Primrose Warburg Snowdrops – The Primrose Warburg cultivar is one of the most popular varieties, and one of the few with yellow markings instead of green.
Walrus Snowdrops – The Walrus snowdrop is this author’s personal favorite variety. It gets its name due to the way its three outermost petals stick out in random directions and look similar to walrus tusks. The inner petals, numbering 15, crowd around each other to form a rosette shape. The inner leaves seem to be green with white edging from a few feet away, but upon closer inspection, are actually white with green stripes in the center of each petal.
Woronowii Snowdrops – At just under six inches tall, the Woronowii cultivar is unique amongst its fellow snowdrops varieties, due to its bright, glossy-green, reflective leaves. Its one-inch flowers seem to point directly down towards their stems. The green marking on the tip of the innermost leaves looks like a cloven hoof.
Growing Conditions for Snowdrops
Snowdrops enjoy a shady location, preferably under the canopy of some large trees. These cold-loving plants are not at all interested in hot weather, even when dormant. Though snowdrops enter dormancy from late spring through the entire summer, the blazing hot summer sun can kill or injure the sleeping plant, so a shady location is essential.
Plant or transplant your snowdrops into a moist, humus-rich well-draining soil. To increase the humus in your soil, amend it by digging in a few inches of well-rotted compost. Keep moist but never soggy at all times, providing water regularly to supplement rainfall. Snowdrops will grow in any type of soil, as long as it is consistently moist and well draining. Less water is needed if you live in cooler climate areas.
How to Plant Snowdrops
Snowdrop bulbs do not store well, so they are only available for a short time during the first few weeks of Autumn. Amend your beds and prepare them for planting, and order your snowdrop bulbs, or pick them up from the local nursery with a plan to plant them as soon as you get them home, watering well after planting.
Plant your snowdrops bulbs into the ground in large groups of 10 to 20 or even more, for a blanket of snowdrops. A single snowdrop flower is not an attention grabber. But a large patch of snowdrop flowers will grab your attention and hold it for a while.
Care for Snowdrops
Snowdrops require practically no effort at all, once they are established. Rainfall should suffice in all cases except for prolonged periods of drought. No fertilization or pruning is necessary for snowdrops. The only task snowdrops require is to be divided once every three years.
How to Propagate Snowdrops
The easiest way to propagate snowdrops is by division. Divide bulb clumps every three years to thin out your snowdrop patches. Use a trowel or hand shovel to dig into the soil about five inches deep around the bulbs. Carefully wedge your trowel below the clump to free it from the ground and pull it up as it starts to come loose. Either move your divisions to a new location, planting immediately, or quickly plant them in a new container.
Newly potted snowdrop divisions can be brought indoors to use as a houseplant (keep out of reach of pets and small children) or used as a gift (Who wouldn’t want a flower that is so easy to care for?). Snowdrops multiply rather quickly, so feel free to divide your plants more often than the recommended once-every-three-year-suggestion, especially if you are trying to keep your snowdrops from taking up too much garden space.
If you don’t already have a patch of snowdrops in your garden, and you don’t have any gardening friends who grow snowdrops, you can purchase bulbs from your local nursery or order them online. However, snowdrop bulbs are only available for a brief period of the year during the first few weeks of Autumn. Snowdrop bulbs have a tendency to dry out very quickly, so they need to be planted as soon as you get them home or receive your bulb delivery.
Garden Pests and Diseases of Snowdrops
Snowdrops are toxic when ingested, and garden pests and foraging animals seem to be aware of their poisonous nature. Snowdrops don’t get any unwanted insect visitors, so they have no issues with garden pests. Though pest insects seem to steer clear of snowdrops, the flowers still attract bees, so the pollen must not be poisonous to bees. Foragers like rabbits and deer know to steer clear of the toxic flowers as well.
Squirrels, on rare occasions, may pull up dry, dormant bulbs. During mild winter weather, gray mold may make an unwanted appearance. If your soils have poor drainage, or get too much water, seedlings may suffer from damping off. However, as long as you provide a healthy environment, your snowdrops should be worry free.
At the least. snowdrops date back to Ancient Greece, where it was described by classic author Theophrastus in the fourth century B.C. Snowdrop was introduced to Europe in the 16th century, and has since naturalized all over Europe and North America.
The reasons that snowdrops have been around so long and are still being cultivated in gardens today are simple. Snowdrops are easy to grow, they don’t get infested by pests, they don’t suffer from diseases, they don’t get devoured by foragers, they come back year after year, and you can even grow them under black walnut trees. Order your bulbs in time for spring or (preferably) fall planting and see for yourself why snowdrops have stayed relevant for centuries.
Snowdrops are highly poisonous when ingested by both humans and animals. Keep small children and pets away from your snowdrop plants and seek immediate medical attention if any part of the snowdrop plant is ingested. All species of snowdrop are highly toxic, which is likely the reason why they are deer resistant and pest-free. When handling snowdrops, always wear a pair of garden gloves to avoid skin irritation. The toxins present in the plant can cause skin irritation and dermatitis when handled without protection.