Dividing snowdrops

A lift now is sure to raise your spirits next winter

Drifts of snowdrops, brightly white against a dark background, look particularly eye-catching when few other flowers are around. We’re lucky to enjoy a number of groups of snowdrops at RHS Garden Wisley. Of particular note are the clumps  under a tree at the top of the Winter Walk on Seven Acres and at the Hilltop near the Herb Garden. On this patch of grass, below a line of mature trees, they merge with an adjoining drift of largely self-propagated Crocus tommasinianus AGM to form a large sheet of white merging into pale blue. They look stunning in the low light of late winter afternoons .

Snowdrop 'Magnet'There are a number of small clumps of Galanthus ‘Magnet’ AGM around the Model Gardens and one in particular at the back of the Container Garden, snug under a canopy of deciduous trees amid the leaf mould, has developed well in recent years.

Snowdrops and ophiopogonNearby Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’ AGM grows well and, with a little work in moving some of the snowdrops, a perfect marriage of glistening white snowdrops and the dark, almost black leaves of Ophiopogon can be formed for future years.

There is a view among expert galanthophiles (experts passionate about snowdrops) that the optimum time to lift and divide bulbs is when they are dormant, when the top growth has died back and before new root growth has begun. That would typically be between June and September. For most growers, though, there tend to be so many other jobs around by then it is difficult to add in another, plus some gardeners - like me - would struggle to remember where all the clumps were!

So I am moving them now when the flowers have largely faded and the foliage is beginning to die back. Perhaps not completely ideal but it seems to work reasonably well. It’s sometimes called dividing “in the green”.

How to divide snowdrops

When dividing I push a spade well below the clump and try to separate the bulbs causing as little harm to the roots as possible. It is possible to replant the bulbs singly and let them expand naturally, but in this case I am looking for a quicker return, so have split the clump into smaller groups of three or four. These are planted carefully back to their original depth and then left to their own devices until they pop up again next winter.

The important thing to remember when transplanting snowdrop bulbs is not to let the bulbs or their roots dry out, which can set back their development or even prove fatal. So have the ground where they are to be planted prepared and ready before lifting the clump.

Dividing in this manner is probably the simplest and easiest way of increasing snowdrop stocks, but they can also be grown from seed, twin scaled (which my colleague Katie Benallick covered in a blog last year) and by chipping.

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