Before you decide on where and how to grow your plants, whether it is in the garden, in baskets or in pots, it might be worthwhile considering the life cycle of the plant and the kind of habitat it would grow in, in the wild. Once understanding these factors it may help in finding a more suitable growing location.

Snowdrops are bulbous plants and have a yearly growth cycle, which only a short period of the year is above ground.

Once all top growth has disappeared, usually mid to late May, the bulb enters what we term as the “dormant” phase. If taken out of the ground you would expect to find a firm, plump bulb with the old roots just starting to wither away. Outwardly this is how it will remain during the warm, dry summer, waiting for the autumn rains and the lowering soil temperature in order to commence growing again. Inwardly the bulb is actually creating the flowering shoot and new leaves for next season. Bulbs lifted in June will be perfectly happy out of the ground as long as they are not exposed to excessive heat or air as this will desiccate them. They can be stored in boxes of moist peat or sand and placed in a cool, dry place then replant in the autumn.

Once the autumn rains commence and I have known this to be as early as August, the new roots will start to emerge from the basal plate and commence growing. It is at this time that buds may appear on the side of the basal plate and start to develop into offsets. The flowering shoot will start to emerge from the neck of the bulb. Growth is slow and will cease altogether when the weather is very cold.

In late winter/early spring the flower shoot will emerge from the soil. The leaves are relatively short at flowering time, but once the flower fades the leaves will start to elongate in order to maximise the surface area that can be used for photosynthesis, required to re-nourish the bulb, which at this point in the cycle will feel soft and flabby due to all of its reserves being used up in producing the flower and leaves. On no account should the leaves be cut off or tied in bunches, as this will stop the production of starch required to form a plump, firm bulb and eventually after a few years of this treatment, the bulb would perish.

While the leaves are getting longer the scape (flower stem) will also elongate and slowly bend towards the ground so that the ripening seed pod comes to rest on the soil.

Once the leaves have completely withered away, naturally, dormancy commences again.

For the autumn flowering species such as reginae-olgae or peshmenii  their life cycle is exactly the same except that the flower shoot, usually without the leaves, will appear very quickly after dormancy has broken. The leaves will appear, as normal, in late winter or spring.

In the wild most species of galanthus grow in woodland and forest regions of Central and Southern Europe, which experience definite seasonal climatic variations, namely cold winters and spring, warm dry summers, cool, often damp autumns. The soil in these aspects is usually very high in humous, which stays damp during the growing season and never completely dries out in the summer months.

These are the kind of conditions that we need to replicate for growing snowdrops, except, of course, we have no control of the weather!!


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