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Diggin' It

A blizzard of snowdrops

One of the first flowers of spring, snowdrops arrive in a cheery blizzard of white.

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These are true snowdrop fashionistas!

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Subtle distinctions

Truth be told, snowdrop flowers are all very similar – either single or double. However, the main differences are in the number, location, and color of the green markings. These markings can be very small, very large, twin, or even triple marked, and occasionally on the outer petals, as well. And in some very rare cases, not green but yellow.

And although the flowers are not showy, Galanthus spp. are exceptionally hardy, flourishing even in Zone 3 (-40° F).

Snowdrops are a notoriously promiscuous bunch: Plant them close to one another, and left to their own devices, they can produce some rather surprising offspring.

There is always the feeling that one may just discover something special in that next patch, for among the 300 or so listed cultivars, few have been deliberately bred. Most come about by serendipity, discovered by some sharp-eyed galanthophile down on his or her knees on the cold earth examining a clump of snowdrops on a blustery winter’s day.

For the most part, gardeners plant snowdrops in the fall, because that’s when they are offered in most garden centers and major catalogs. But for you to be successful, these bulbs must be “fresh”, as they have a very short shelf life. So it’s best not to buy bulbs that have been sitting around for a time in a warm environment.

For true success, snowdrops are best planted “in the green” – that is, immediately after flowering, when the leaves are still present. At those times, just lift established clumps after flowering, split the clump in two, replant, and water well.

Most snowdrops prefer woodland conditions – a moist, humus-rich soil, under deciduous shrubs or among dormant perennials. Every three years or so, divide snowdrops immediately after flowering.

Betty Earl is one of nine garden writers who blog regularly at Diggin' It. She's the author of “In Search of Great Plants: The Insider’s Guide to the Best Plants in the Midwest.” She also writes a regular column for Chicagoland Gardening Magazine and The Kankakee Journal and numerous articles for Small Gardens Magazine, American Nurseryman, Nature’s Garden, and Midwest Living Magazine, as well as other national magazines. She is a garden scout for Better Homes and Gardens and a regional representative for The Garden Conservancy.

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