Thursday, 19 August 2010

Sustainable snowdrops

Galanthus 'Hippolyta'

This week we have been busy lifting dormant snowdrop bulbs from the garden and nursery. The bulbs are in perfect condition, plump and full - an ideal state for moving them around. When replanted they will soon push out new roots and quickly establish, growing next year as if they had never been moved.

The clump shown above, of the Greatorex hybrid double 'Hippolyta', is typical. It has been in the ground for several years and the bulbs have multiplied well, so there are several layers of them in the clump. If one tried to divide it in growth, as popular custom sugests, you would rip off most of the roots while trying to disentangle the bulbs, leaving each plant in a disadvantaged state for the growing season and resulting in a smaller bulb than if it had been left undisturbed. Last year's roots are still cleartly visible here, showing how long they persist: while not really active, these are very much alive and fleshy.

A clump like this is extracted from the ground in its entirety: at this time of the year the bulbs just fall away from the clump. Then they are graded, with some flowering-size bulbs being retained for sales while others, plus some offsets are replanted in the original (but widened and deepened hole) at a reasonable spacing. These will quickly develop to form a fine flowering clump again within a year or two. A few other smaller bulbs are taken off for replanting elsewhere. This system makes the offtake of bulbs from Colesbourne very sustainable: the spring display is not affected, and indeed enhanced, while providing a stock of bulbs to appear as potted plants on our sales table next February.

'Hippolyta' in flower - only five months or so to go... (for those who are feeling snowdrop-deprived)


  1. That's me, that's me, I am feeling snowdrop deprived, and even depraved. I found this post fascinating. I have always read that dividing snowdrops 'in the green' was the most suitable method. In Canada, they are very difficult if not impossible to find like this, actually snowdrops are difficult to find period. They do not seem to be as popular here as they are in the UK, not quite sure why, is it because they are white and we Canadian are so sick of snow when they flower? Nevertheless, I love them, I just wish that I could find named varieties here, only a very few species available.

  2. Hello JG - this is interesting because I had always understood that in the green is the time for moving - and yet despite following that advice they never seen to take well.

  3. Am I right in thinking that you can move snowdrops easily like this if you dont let the corms dry out?

  4. This is so informative, and I was about to email the link to Deborah at Kilbourne Grove, but I see she has read it already.

    What she didn't tell you about was our hair raising experience with Canada Post when they lost the "in the green snowdrops" we tried to send to her this late spring.

    The distress in the Canada Post customer service representative's voice as she repeated what she thought I had said was rather humorous...."you SENT LIVE DOVES?"

    No live bulbs...who do you think we are.

    So, thank you for this post, it's very informative, and if I can beat back the giant hydrangea, I will get to those bulbs soon.

    Jen @ Muddy Boot Dreams

  5. to Catharine: moving snowdrops in the green is the unthinking convention. It disturbs them at their peak growing season & usually causes a lot of damage to the roots, which do not regrow that season. The result is that the bulb goes dormant early, so is smaller than it should be, and performs less well the following season.

    to Patientgardener: The only thing to avoid is desiccation of the bulbs in hot sun. If you don't replant immediately they can be kept in a cool dry shed, for months if necessary, without any harm befalling them.

    to Jen @ Muddy Boot Dreams, and Deborah: Traumatic! Did they reappear?


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