Preparation means superb snowdrops

From left - Angela Holloway, Tess Balchin and Nicky Wood
 from the support group, Grumbling Grandparents     Picture Ian Hargreaves  (180014-1)

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Snowdrops always look best when they’re planted in groups because they naturalise so well – and the best time to plant them is right now, as soon as they’ve finished flowering. It’s called planting in the green.

This is the best time to create new drifts too because the clumps can be dug out, split up and separated before the leaves die down.

The preparation of the soil is important and it must be dug over to the full depth of a digging fork because snowdrops create a long series of fine roots.

Once dug and split, two or three plants are planted with a hand trowel so that they are planted a little bit deeper than they were originally. The idea is to ensure all the white parts of the leaves are covered with soil and a quarter-of-an-inch of the green is covered too. This keeps the new plantings looking smart and the leaves won’t flop all over the soil.

New seedlings can be bought by mail order and you will see adverts for snowdrops (and winter aconites) in the green and they cost around £10 per 100 seedlings.

The seedlings must be planted as soon as they arrive and watered in afterwards.

Just in case you’re wondering if they’re available at garden centres, yes they are. But they’re in pots all ready to be planted into your garden.

After planting, what happens? The leaves die down slowly and all the energy and elements pass down into the tiny bulb, which is getting larger all the time this is happening.

Once the flower stem begins to die down, hormones are produced which induce the flower bud to form in the centre of the bulb. This will be next year’s snowdrop flower, so it is very important never to cut the foliage off until it is completely dead.

Seeds from the old flowers fall on to the soil and germinate like blades of grass. These seedling will produce a flower once they are two years old.

Can they be sown from seed? Yes, but snowdrop seed is difficult to find in catalogues. Chiltern Seeds near Ulverstone in Cumbria has limited supplies.

Home saved seed is the best idea. Simply cut off the seed pods once they are plump and just starting to change to a light biscuit colour and put them into a dry brown paper bag. Hang them up in the warm and dry for a month.

The seeds usually fall out of the seed cases by then and are sown into a seed tray of John Innes seed compost, to which an extra 20 per cent sharp sand is added.

Snowdrops germinate best in the light, so the seed tray is best placed in a slightly deeper box and then covered with a single sheet of newspaper. Seedlings germinate in about three weeks.

Once large enough to handle, they are pricked out into small plastic insert cells and planted out into the garden.