Horticulture Hacks: How to grow Snowdrops
March 4, 2020
Nurtured in Norfolk’s gardening expert Martyn Davey answers all your questions and gives his top horticulture hacks.
If you would like any horticulture query answered please do e-mail our head grower at firstname.lastname@example.org to add your thoughts to our horticulture hacks.
Last week you answered a question about planting snowdrops and establishing them in a garden, I found this very interesting as I have been trying to establish snowdrops in my garden with very limited success. I have planted bulbs that have grown and are slowly bulking up into good sized clumps but the seed they set is no good I have tried to grow it for the last few years and it does not germinate for me. Can you give me any advice on what may be wrong with the seed or what I am doing that is preventing them from germinating. The seed is collected and sown in late march while it is still in the green as I understand this is important.
G. Meadows, Kings Lynn
Snow drops or Galanthus will produce seed readily if they can certainly the single native snowdrop Galanthus nivalis will set seed, however in the green relates to moving and dividing the clumps of bulbs not collecting the seed this should only be done when the seed is ripe which is normally in June. The seeds of most species and single-flowered species can be collected, however the seed pods will need to be left on the plant and only picked when they turn yellow. The seed should not be picked earlier and ripened indoors as this will drastically affect their viability. Interestingly, snowdrop seeds have a tail-like appendage called an elaiosome. The elaiosome is rich in fatty acids and attractive to ants. In the wild ants would carry off the elaiosomes, including the seeds, which allows the plants to become distributed further around the area.
Once collected the seeds should be sown immediately however prior to sowing prepare the seeds by removing any parts of the seed pod adhering to it. Sow the seeds thinly in 9 cm pots containing a good quality compost such as John Innes ‘Seed and Cutting’. Press into the compost but do not bury. Top off with 1 cm of grit-sand. Gently water in so as not to disturb the seeds and then place outside in a cold frame. Keep the compost moist but not waterlogged and do not allow the compost to dry out.
You can expect germination to occur at the end of the following winter. Be aware that moist conditions must be maintained throughout the year as drought can easily kill off the seedlings. The seedlings will be able to remain in the pots for a couple of years, and fed with a 50% dilute liquid fertiliser. They can then be potted on into larger pots with John Innes ‘No.3’ or planted outside into their final position.
You won’t see any flowers in the first year, but you must continue to keep the seedlings moist – even when they have died back. If the seedlings appear to be too close together you can try transplanting some of them. The baby bulbs that will have developed after the first year’s growth are very tiny, smaller than a grain of rice, so it might be best to leave them for a year to grow a little bigger.
In the second year you must feed the seedlings with diluted tomato feed such as Tomerite.
In the third year the bulbs should be repotted. The bulbs are still small but manageable. Wait until they have died back before repotting. Use a similar process as when you planted the seeds – a layer of compost to plant the bulbs in, a layer to cover the bulbs and then half an inch of fine grit.
In the fourth year there’s a chance that your snowdrops will flower so you can plant them outdoors. They like a fairly shaded location. Under a tree is ideal. Some snowdrops take six years to flower, so don’t despair if yours don’t do so by the fourth year.
At all times it’s vital that you don’t let your snowdrops dry out. Growing snowdrops is an exercise in patience. Snowdrops will perform best planted in heavy loam soils with plenty of moisture and some shade.
Jobs for this week
- Prune hardy evergreen hedges and renovate overgrown deciduous hedges now as once we get into March the birds will start to nest and then it should be left until August.
- Cut back deciduous ornamental grasses left uncut over the winter, remove dead grass from evergreen grasses.
- Prune winter-flowering shrubs but only when they have finished flowering.
Martyn Davey – Head Grower