Galanthus nivalis

One of the earliest of all our spring flowering plants. They look their best when planted in large drifts, along shady banks or beneath deciduous trees. Despite their dainty appearance, they are extremely tough and hardy, and will establish well in most gardens.

Family: Amaryllidaceae (amaryllis)
Botanical Name: Galanthus
Common Names: snowdrop, fair maids of February, candlemas bells, Mary's taper

Foliage: linear or strap-shaped green leaves. Deciduous (leaves die back after flowering).

Flowers: delicate, drooping, solitary white flowers with bell shaped heads, often edged in green.

Flowering Period: January to March.

Soil: Moist but well-drained soil (Clay, Chalk, Loam or Sand), any pH.

: Best in partial shade. Can be grown in a south, west or east facing aspect, in either an exposed or sheltered location.

Habit: Low growing, clump forming.

Type: Dwarf bulbous perennials.

Origin: Eastern Europe

Hardiness: Fully hardy in most regions of the UK (down to -15°C).

Toxicity: Ingestion can cause stomach upsets.

Planting and Growing Galanthus

Can be planted anywhere in the garden but look best in woodland areas or in groves, where their white flowers and fresh green leaves contrast well with the dark surroundings.

Plant bulbs in late spring, once flowering has finished but when they still have green leaves attached (known as 'in the green'). Plant immediately and do not allow the bulbs to dry out or they will fail. Pot grown specimens can be planted-out at any reasonable time.

Best planted in a partly-shaded position, in a moist but well-drained soil. If the soil is heavy or poor add plenty of humus (leaf mould or garden compost) before planting.

Snowdrops are useful spring flowering additions to rock gardens, shaded banks and slopes or in flower beds and borders. Does particularly well in cool shady parts of the garden such as under deciduous trees and tall shrubs.

Taking Care of Galanthus

Ensure the soil does not dry out in summer. Mark the planting location with plant labels to prevent inadvertently digging up or disturbing the bulbs when dormant.

Pruning Galanthus

No pruning necessary, simply allow the foliage to die back naturally once flowering has finished. Do not tie the leaves up or cut them down until they wither and turn brown naturally, or this will affect next season's flowers.

Pests and Diseases

Watch out for squirrels digging up bulbs. Usually pest free but grey mould can be a problem, especially in mild winters.

Propagating Galanthus

Lift and divide mature clumps just after flowering, but before the foliage dies back. Divide with as little disturbance as possible to the roots. Replant at the same depth.

Alternatively seed can be collected and sown as soon as they ripen (NB: hybrids don't usually come true from seed).

Candlemass Day

The 2nd February is believed to be the day when the Jesus was taken as a child to Jerusalem to be presented to the priests. Christians once used to light candles for him and his mother Mary on this day. In some parts of the country the flower, which appear in early February, are called Candlemass Bell's or Mary's taper because of this.

Varieties of Galanthus Grown in the UK

These much loved heralds of spring are now available in an ever increasing selection of hybrids, although the differences in some forms can be very subtle.

A few of the most common varieties are usually available at garden centres and nurseries 'in-the-green' or in individual pots when in flower. For more unusual varieties it is best to visit a plant stall at one of the many snowdrop show gardens in February, or buy online or by mail order. Average height and spread 12cm (5in) by 20cm (8in).

Common Forms:

G. nivalis (common snowdrop) bears flowers up to 1in (2.5cm) long, the inner petals have green at their tips. Height 6in (15cm), spread 3in (8cm). ‘Flore Pleno’ is a particularly good double variety. Available at Thompson and Morgan, Gardening Express and You Garden.

G. elwesii is a larger form with broad grey leaves and large flowers on tall stems. Available at Thompson and Morgan.

Rare Varieties:

G. n. Polar Bear is a rare variety with unusual upward facing blooms and wide open petals. Available at Gardening Express.

G. e. Beluga is a rare and highly sought-after variety with limited supply. Available at Gardening Express.