Thursday, October 29, 2009

A Flurry Of Snowdrops In Spring

Springtime brings a flurry of favorite flowers, and among them are Snowdrops.  Snowdrops belong to the genus Galanthus which comprises about 20 species ranging from the mountains of France to western Turkey.  They pop up in so many places around the world, however, that you'd think they belonged just about everywhere.  Perhaps from as early as Roman times, they were carried about and planted as far away from their native habitat as Britain.  They are still so popular that plant hunters can't resist the urge to dig them up.  In fact, some species are so threatened that it is illegal under international trade agreements to disturb them without a permit.  (Be assured that those we market are sold legally and not harvested from the wild.)

The most widely available species is Galanthus nivalisGalanthus (pronounced guh-LAN-thus) means "milk-flower", referring to its color.  Nivalis (pronounced niv-VAL-iss) means "growing in snow."

Snowdrops are perennial plants that grow from bulbs.  Long, narrow leaves resemble narcissus foliage.  Flowers are produced in late winter to early spring on stems about 12" long.  After flowering, the leaves yellow and die.

Like very many ornamental plants, Snowdrops are toxic and must not be eaten, so care must be taken if planting where "munchkins" might be tempted to sample them.  Sensitive persons should consider wearing gloves if handling any part of the plant, especially the juice from cut stems or bulbs.  Interestingly, though, they contain a substance called galanthamine which is used in the treatment of Alzheimer's disease.  Bear in mind that it is not a home remedy.

Because they are toxic, Snowdrops are deer and rodent resistant.

Snowdrops thrive in full sun to partial shade in climate zones 3 through 8, and require slightly but consistently moist soil that is high in organic matter.  Best pH should range from 5.6 to 7.5.

As always, take a sample of your garden soil to your local Cooperative Extension Service office before planting.  They will send it to a lab for analysis and recommendations.  Expect to pay a nominal fee.  If you don't understand the report, ask the County Agent to interpret it for you.

Planting begins in fall, and must be done soon after you receive them.  They will not be happy if left to dry out.

Unless you are naturalizing them in the lawn, prepare the planting bed by cultivating at least 8" deep, removing all traces of weeds.  A good all-around practice for bulbs and such is to mix 5 tablespoons of 10-10-10 fertilizer and 2 cups of bone meal per ten square feet area of bulb garden.  Repeat the application when growth appears, but be careful that fertilizer does not come into direct contact with plant tissue.

Plant the bulbs about 4" deep.  Depth is measured to the bottom of the hole.  Recommended plant spacing is 2" to 3" apart.  Figure on planting 10 bulbs per square foot.

The plants require very little maintenance.  Plant them and forget about them.  They are wonderful for bulb gardens, perennial gardens, container gardens as well as for naturalizing in meadows, around the margins of lawns, and in woodlands.  After blooming, be sure to let the leaves yellow and die before cutting them.  Leaving them alone will allow the bulbs to build up food reserves for a glorious show the next year.  Believe me, a generous planting of Snowdrops is a wonderful sight that will quickly chase the winter blues.

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