UT Gardens Feb. plant of the month: Snowdrops

UT Gardens Feb. plant of the month: Snowdrops

Posted: Friday, February 18, 2011 8:01 pm
By: James Newburn, Assistant Director, UT Gardens

Submitted by James Newburn 

Assistant Director, UT Gardens

What a snowy, cold winter many of us are having! Yet, plenty of plants still provide interest in the garden at this time of year. Often these are valued for their interesting bark (red-twig dogwoods, paperbark maples, crepe myrtles); their fruit (hawthorns and winterberry hollies); or foliage (conifers and broadleaf evergreens like magnolias and hollies). But one flower that blooms at this time of year brightens the winter landscape and lifts the spirit as a harbinger of spring. This wonderful plant is appropriately enough called snowdrops

The common snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis) is a flowering bulb that blooms from mid-winter to early spring. It has a lovely, bell-shaped, snow-white bloom with small green spots on the tips of the inner petals. The half-inch flower droops delicately from a green stem 4 inches to 7 inches in height and has grass-like foliage. This member of the amaryllis family is extremely hardy in all Tennessee hardiness zones and the blooms will even stay on with snow cover and freezing temperatures. Like many members of this family, snowdrops are typically deer and rodent resistant.

Snowdrops are best grown in full to partial shade or dappled sunlight. These small bulbs work best when planted in mass or in random groups as they will slowly naturalize much like daffodils or crocus. This is definitely not a flower you want to plant in straight rows. They look wonderful when planted around shrubs and under trees that lose their leaves in winter. This helps give these areas a real woodland feel. They also look great in a rock garden, in the herbaceous flower border where later-blooming plants will cover the spent blooms and foliage, and even naturalized in lawn areas. 

Snowdrop bulbs are widely available from bulb catalogs and retail outlets that sell bulbs. Usually you will find them offered in fall, which is the best time to plant them. The bulbs should be planted about 3 inches deep in a cool, moist, but well-drained soil. Since the bulbs are small you can either dig individual holes or one large area the same depth and randomly place the bulbs about 3 inches apart and back fill. This will help give the naturalized look. Avoid placing blood meal or bulb fertilizer in the planting hole, but top-dressing with well-rotted manure or compost in fall will be beneficial. After several years clumps can be divided for sharing or placing in other areas of the garden. 

Snowdrops get their scientific name from gala (milk) and anthus (flower) which refers to their milky white blooms. They get their common name for the same reason but also because they can bloom even with snow on the ground. This dainty little beauty is anything but fragile and is a great addition to any garden to serve as a reminder that though winter may be harsh, spring is just around the corner.
James Newburn is the Assistant Director of the UT Gardens. The University of Tennessee Gardens located in Knoxville and Jackson are part of the UT Institute of Agriculture. Their mission is to foster appreciation, education and stewardship of plants through garden displays, collections, educational programs and research trials. The gardens are open during all seasons and free to the public. See http://utgardens.tennessee.edu/ and http://westtennessee.tennessee.edu/ornamentals/ for more information.

wcp 2/17/11

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