Snow Days – Winter Blooming Snowdrops and Snowflakes

Peaceful snowy view

Peaceful snowy view

Snow days can offer some of the most stunning peaceful views you will ever see in your garden – but snow and its accompanying frost and ice is difficult to predict and impossible to control. To re-work an old saying – the snow is always whiter and lighter on the other side of the proverbial garden fence in winter.

A cluster of refreshing snowdrops about to open in a North State garden in mid-January

A cluster of refreshing snowdrops about to open in a North State garden in mid-January

In the midst of January, gardeners in very cold climates might already be counting the days until the snow is gone, while those in milder climates can sometimes be heard yearning for the refreshing sight of just a light dusting – just once this year. For you snow bound gardeners, I have spoken before about the joys of bringing in forced bulbs and branches to help you through the winter months.

Snowflakes running down the base of a North State garden wall in early spring.

Snowflakes running down the base of a North State garden wall in early spring.

For you snow-deprived gardeners, I’m here to suggest planting out a bit of figurative snow – compliments of the winter blooming bulbs known as snow drops and snowflakes. Drifts of these hardy perennial and easy care bulbs in bloom in woodland and rock gardens throughout the mid- and late- winter months will provide something like the dusting of fresh white you might be yearning for.

Common names can often be used for different plants by different people – so let’s define our terms. When I refer to a snowdrop I am referring to the small, low growing bulbs from the genus Galanthus. Other common names for these diminutive winter beauties include Candlemas lily, Fair Maids of February and little sister of the snow.

Snowflakes are those taller white and green bulbs from the genus Leucojum. Both genera are in the Amaryllis family, both originate from Central Europe and both were described by Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus in his mid-1700s “Species Plantarum” .

Both genera offer the gardener several species or cultivars for both early and late blooms. Both plants’ flowers add a light fresh fragrance to warm winter days or winter cut flower displays. People frequently describe the scent of snowdrops as being that of honey.

The delicate and finely segmented early spring snowdrop blossom.

The delicate and finely segmented early spring snowdrop blossom.

While snowflakes have six equal tepals (petals and sepals that are similar to each other), in snowdrops the three inner tepals are shorter and broader than the three outer tepals.

Snowflake (Leacojum) bell.

Snowflake (Leacojum) bell.

Snowdrops in general are earlier blooming and far shorter in stature than snowflakes, and so planted together they make a nice layered effect in size and offer a good succession effect in bloom time.

While it’s generally recommended to plant the dry, dormant bulbs of either of these in the fall, in an area with good drainage and relatively even winter/spring moisture, they can in fact be moved and planted “in the green” as it is called, right after they are done blooming. If you have or know of clumps that can be divided or transplanted, moving them in the green is the best way to ensure that you know where they are and you remember to actually do it!

Even water and yearly feed of balanced organic fertilizer will keep these bulbs heathly and flowering for years to come. They both naturalize easily through both seed set and bulb offsets so while you might start with just a handful of the little bulbs, in no garden time at all, you will have healthy clumps.

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In a North State Garden is a weekly Northstate Public Radio and web-based program celebrating the art, craft and science of home gardening in Northern California and made possible in part by the Gateway Science Museum – Exploring the Natural History of the North State and on the campus of CSU, Chico. In a North State Garden is conceived, written, photographed and hosted by Jennifer Jewell – all rights reserved jewellgarden.com. In a North State Garden airs on Northstate Public Radio Saturday mornings at 7:34 AM Pacific time and Sunday morning at 8:34 AM Pacific time. Podcasts of past shows are available here.

Jennifer Jewell
In a North State Garden is a bi-weekly North State Public Radio and web-based program celebrating the art, craft and science of home gardening in Northern California and made possible in part by the Gateway Science Museum - Exploring the Natural History of the North State and on the campus of CSU, Chico. In a North State Garden is conceived, written, photographed and hosted by Jennifer Jewell - all rights reserved jewellgarden.com. In a North State Garden airs on Northstate Public Radio Saturday morning at 7:34 AM Pacific time and Sunday morning at 8:34 AM Pacific time, two times a month.
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1 Response

  1. Avatar Pamela says:

    These photos are so lovely. Thank you, Jennifer!