How to Grow Hardy Snowdrops (Galanthus)

Galanthus spp.

Are you pining for spring? Try growing Galanthus flowers. More commonly called snowdrops, they are some the first to bloom in the late winter and early spring. They require almost no maintenance and can be grown in soil of nearly any pH level. They are deer and rabbit resistant and can fill in shady areas where many ground covers cannot grow.

Vertical closeup image of many snowdrops with white blooms and green leaves and stems, printed with green and white text.

Their snowy, nodding heads appear during the last frozen days of winter, often in the company of other early-bloomers like hellebores and crocuses, to herald the approach of spring.

Here’s what’s ahead in this article:

What is Galanthus?

Galanthus or snowdrop flowers is a genus of 20 closely related species of bulbous perennial herbaceous plants that belong to the Amaryllidaceae family that includes alliums, amaryllis, and daffodils. They are native to southern Europe, the Middle East, and Eurasia to include Turkey and Iran. The plants are known for their early blooming white drooping bell shaped flowers that often push up through the snow. Each flower features six petaloids in two whorls with the inner petals having green splotches of varying size.

Vertical image of white snowdrop flowers with white petals in groupings of three and green leaves, growing in brown mulch-covered soil.

Snowdrop are a woodland flower suitable for planting in USDA Hardiness Zones 3-7. They thrive underneath trees and shrubs in full winter sun and the filtered rays of early spring. The ideal soil for these plants is organically rich, moist, and well-draining.

Galanthus blooms with white petals and green foliage growing in the snow, with bare twigs.

The white blossoms of this charmer have inner petals that are accented with what look like tiny green upside-down hearts. The kids in our family love to spot them in a snowy landscape.

Galanthus is often confused with snowflakes Leucojum and Acis which are closely related genera within the same tribe (Galantheae).

Cultivation and History

Snowdrops were first described by the classical Greek author, Theophrastus, in the fourth century BC in his “Historia plantarum, Enquiry into Plants.” It wasn’t until 1753 that they were named Galanthus by Carl Linnaeus, a Swedish botanist and zoologist.

Despite being thought of as a quintessential British flower, it was likely introduced in the 16th century. Today, the flowers have naturalized in most of Europe and much of temperate North America.

Propagation

Galanthus spreads by two methods: dropping seed, and generating bulb offsets. You may divide bulb perennials as desired to thin them out, pot them up, or share with friends. It is recommended to thin out every three years.

Closeup closely cropped vertical image of a person wearing khaki pants and a dark and light gray sweatshirt with light purple heather gloves holds a cluster of snowdrop bulbs with green leaves growing on top, with a green lawn in the background.

To do this, use your trowel to dig straight down about five inches around the clump you wish to remove. Gently ease your trowel underneath to release its grip on the earth, and pull it up. Move this clump directly to a new location, or pot it up to share with friends.

How to Grow

This is an easy-care perennial, and planting bulbs in groups to encourage the formation of clumps is recommended. Over the years, they will naturalize to form large drifts of blossoms that breathe life into the wintry landscape.

A hand holds a snowdrop with more growing in a cluster in snow-covered earth, with white blossoms and green leaves.

I like to tuck a few handfuls in unlikely places, near a garden gate or the front steps, to surprise visitors to my home with an early sign of spring.

Oblique overhead shot of white Galanthus flowers with green leaves, growing in soil topped with brown leaf mulch.

Plant in the spring or fall. Work the soil to a crumbly consistency and make holes about three inches deep.

Place one bulb in each hole with the pointed top facing up. Allow about three inches between each, and sow in groups of 10 or more.

Purple crocus and white snowdrops growing in bright sunshine in earth topped with brown leaves.

Depending upon your soil conditions as determined by soil testing, you may incorporate some bone meal or your chosen fertilizer into the earth at this time. By the second year, maturity should bring blossoms. Be patient – it’s worth the wait!

Vertical image of white Galanthus flowers with green stems and leaves, growing in earth topped with brown, dry, dead leaves, in bright sunshine.

After blooming, allow the foliage to die off on its own. While it remains green, it will continue to provide nourishment to ensure beautiful flowers next season. When it withers, you may remove it or let the other plants in the garden grow over it.

Cheery Indoor Containers

In addition to sowing in the garden, snowdrop grows well in containers with good drainage holes. Start in February to force bulbs to bloom indoors. Place them side by side, planted three inches deep with their points facing up, in potting medium mixed with a little bone meal or fertilizer.

Set your pot in a cool cellar or enclosed porch to mimic the chill of winter. Once you see foliage, bring it indoors and set it in a location that receives filtered, indirect sunlight. Keep the soil moist and wait for the blossoms!

Potted white snowdrops with gray-green leaves and stems growing in mulch-covered brown soil in a terra cotta pot, in front of a stone wall and another plant container.

You may also try container cultivation outdoors, but remember that pots dry out and freeze at faster than the ground. Choose a sheltered southern or western location, and be vigilant about watering and drainage.

Bulbs that don’t get enough moisture may wither, and those that become saturated may rot. Also, pots that don’t drain well may fill with water, freeze, and crack.

Toxicity Warning

Galanthus is poisonous when ingested. Be careful when growing around pets and young children. Skin irritation has also been reported and gloves should be used when handling.

Growing Tips:

  • Ideally, snowdrops should be planted when the foliage is still green (“in the green”) in the late spring.
  • The bulbs are very susceptible to drying out and should be bought (or dug) and planted immediately.
  • Plant in a partly shaded location in well-draining but moist soil. Woodland edges or areas with tall shrubs and other perennials are ideal locations. As the spring transitions to summer, their leaves fade away and leave space for summer bloomers to shine.
  • Avoid heavy clay soils with poor drainage as the winter freeze may damage bulbs.
  • The plant is tolerant of many pH levels and can be planted in areas such as acidic pine forests (“blueberry land”) as well as more alkaline locations where deciduous trees and shrubs do well.
  • Incorporate compost and top with compost or leaf mold to guard against summer drought. These are very hardy plants but they are not drought tolerant.

Care and Maintenance

Very little care is required once you have a mature mass of Galanthus. It should multiply on its own and it blooms best when its a little crowded. Divide clumps once every three years or so.

Cultivars to Select

As a perennial, snowdrop is a sound investment that returns bigger and better each year. And with the ability to generate new clumps that may be relocated, you can enjoy an excellent bang for your buck.

The trick is to start with quality plants, so here are two you can count on:

Galanthus nivalis

Galanthus nivalis is the most common variety and grows to around 3–6 inches (7–15 cm) tall, and blooms between January and May in the temperate regions in the northern hemisphere.

Galanthus nivalis with white blossoms and green leaves, growing in brown soil.

Galanthus Nivalis Bulbs

This type has smaller blossoms and a light fragrance and is hardy to Zone 3.

G. nivalis is available from Burpee and each package contains 25 bulbs.

Galanthus elwesii

This variety, also called the giant snowdrop, boasts the largest, most fragrant blossoms. It has been known to reach a foot in height, and is hardy to Zone 3.

Multiple clusters of Galanthus elwesii flowers growing in mulch-covered ground.

Galanthus Elwesii Bulbs

It is native to Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel and Palestine, Turkey and much of the eastern Mediterranean. The center of the flowers also feature a green blotch, making it visually striking and a bit different than most of its other relatives.

G. elwesii is available from Burpee in packages of twenty-five bulbs.

Managing Pests and Disease

Snowdrops have no serious insect or disease problems and are deer and rabbit resistant due to the toxicity of their vegetation.

Squirrels may occasionally forage dry bulbs and gray mold can be a problem during mild winters. Damping off can occasionally affect seedlings in areas with too much moisture and poor drainage.

Quick Reference Growing Chart

Plant Type: Perennial bulb Flower / Foliage Color: White flowers with blue-green foliage
Native To: Southern Europe, Middle East, Mediterranean, Eurasia Maintenance: Low.
Hardiness (USDA Zone): 3-8 Tolerance: Tolerates frost and freezing and are deer resistant
Bloom Time / Season: Late winter, early spring Soil Type: Rich in organics
Exposure: Full sun to partial shade Soil pH: Acidic through alkaline
Time To Maturity: 2-4 years Soil Drainage: Well-drained
Spacing: 3 inches apart Companion Planting: Viburnum, crocus, daffodil, hosta
Planting Depth: 3-4 inches deep Uses: Mass plantings, borders, under story ground cover.
Height: 3-7 inches for common varieties Family: Amaryllidaceae
Growth Rate: Divide bulbs every 3 years Subfamily: Amaryllidoideae
Water Needs: Keep moist Tribe: Galantheae
Attracts: Bees and other pollinators Genus: Galanthus
Pests & Diseases: No serious insect or disease problems - gray mold and damping off may attack plants that are in locations with poor drainage.

Chill-Defying Blooms

Are you ready to make snowdrop an integral part of your pre-spring landscape?

Snowdrops growing with other plants with red and green foliage in the garden.
Photo by Lorna Kring.

In addition to the fact that it’s pretty, hardy, rabbit and deer-resistant, and naturalizes readily, the Galanthus genus has a natural immunity to juglone toxicity. This means you’ve finally found a plant to grow beneath your black walnut trees!

Order your bulbs in time for fall or spring planting, and enjoy gardens full of life that defy the chill of winter.

Closeup of a snowdrop flower with white petals and a green stem, on a brown mottled background.

Are you eager to add this plant to your landscape? What are some of your other early-season favorites? Let us know in the comments below!

And don’t forget to check out our other articles on deer-resistant plants and gardening tips, including:


Don’t forget to Pin It!

A collage of photos showing different views of Galanthus or snowdrop flowers growing in the snow.

Photo by Lorna Kring © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Product photos via Burpee. Uncredited photos via Shutterstock. First published January 30th, 2019. Last updated: March 22, 2020 at 3:52 am.

About Nan Schiller

Nan Schiller is a writer with deep roots in the soil of southeastern Pennsylvania. Her background includes landscape and floral design, a BS in business from Villanova University, and a Certificate of Merit in floral design from Longwood Gardens. An advocate of organic gardening with native plants, she’s always got dirt under her nails and freckles on her nose. With wit and hopefully some wisdom, she shares what she’s learned and is always ready to dig into a new project!

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