Legions of gardeners receive their first of many pleasant garden surprises at this time of the year when they happen upon a clump of Galanthus nivalis, or Snowdrops, when they’re out doing a bit of preliminary cleanup. You brush away a bit of snow-encrusted leaves and there they are, huddled together against the cold like a herd of encircled musk ox. And that’s why we love them. Snowdrops are the very first of many harbingers of spring. We may yet see more snowfall this month but as long as the snowdrops are up we know spring can’t be far behind.
There are 20 species of Galanthus and all of them are white, or white and green. The name comes from the Greek gala (milk) and anthos (flower) and the tiny petals do look like drops of milk hanging down. Nivalis means “of the snow.” Bulbs can be purchased and planted in the fall. Snowdrops will quickly naturalize as they readily form new bulblets underground, and they will also form seed. Plant them in good soil that drains quickly as the snow melts. Galanthus nivalis doesn’t grow any taller than 10 cm. Deer stay away from them. The narrow leaves that grow at the base don’t last longer than a few weeks after the flowers have faded; there will be no indication that snowdrops were ever there by the time the crocuses begin to bloom.
Because they bloom so early there’s no need to think about what to plant with them. Snowdrops can form impressive carpets of white in a garden over time, but even a small clump a foot across is a beautiful sight in late winter. Plant them where you can enjoy them in February and March; along a path or near the door, or tuck them in amongst border plants or under small trees.

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