Put five galanthophiles together and you will get 10 opinions on how to grow snowdrops.
First: Galanthus is a bulbous plant. But unlike most tulips, daffodils and the like, snowdrops naturalize and multiply easily. This way clumps will form, which will last for years.
It all starts with buying the new Galanthus. And that is where the enthousiasts start their discussion. Because there are three different ways to buy them: “in the brown”, “in the white” and “in the green”.
“In the brown” means nothing more than buying “a dry bulb”, which is typically brown coloured. This generally means that in August or September bulbs are for sale, which must be planted immediately. The risk is that the bulbs will dry out, and grow poorly. Freshly dug-up bulbs give the best chance of success.
“In the white” means that you buy a plant, that has been grown in a pot, just sprouted, but does not yet flower. This is also a good way to use in the garden, when a clump becomes too large or when the bulbs in a clump grow too close together. Commercially, this is very rare.
“In the green” means that you buy a plant that is flowering or has flowered. This is the most common way in which the plants are sold. Often the plants are sold in February and March. Sometimes in a pot, sometimes bare-rooted and sent by mail, wrapped in moss. There are many enthousiasts who prefer this method.
From our own experience it is important that new plants are not planted in totally sterile soil. It seems that the soil in which the plant is placed, must contain certain fungi. These fungi live on the surface of or inside the roots of the plant, and help it to absorb nutrients. These fungi are called Mycorrhiza. Especially in the last years, these Mycorrhiza attract a lot of attention. One way of introducing these Mycorrhiza around the new bulbs is to add soil from a place where Galanthus thrives. Plants that originate from good growing clumps, from an enthousiast, almost certainly contain this Mycorrhiza. Nowadays, a number of “fabricated Mycorrhizas” is commercially available. Research shows that the fungi in this Mycorrhiza are poorly responsive to fertilizer. It is better to stimulate the Mycorrhiza with humus: leaf mould or good (home made) compost.
You might simply plant the bulbs in the garden. In general, they do not impose too strong demands on the soil, with respect to composition and acidity. However, it is recommended to have sufficient organic material in the near vicinity of the bulbs. Also water, especially in the months October to April, is very important. Be sure not to plant the bulbs in a lawn that is mown regularly. By mowing, the leaves are cut off, and it is exactly those that are necessary for letting the bulbs grow after flowering, so that they can flower again next year. It is better to place them under deciduous shrubs, or in a border, where the plants get sufficient light and water during spring. In any case, do not plant the bulbs under evergreens that block the sunlight during the entire year. However, you may very well plant them in between the roots of a deciduous tree.
We grow all our Galanthuses in lattice baskets. This has the advantage that the bulbs can be lifted from the ground, for example for inspection in the summer. Each basket contains one species or one hybrid. The bulbs stay in the basket for at most two years. A label is placed in every basket, and when the basket is buried in the garden, another label is placed in the ground. In each basket is put a layer consisting of equal parts of leaf mould, coarse sand and John Innes No 3: approximately one inch high. Below the bulb a small pile of coarse sand is placed, so that the basal plate is well drained. The basket is then filled with garden soil to which some old soil (containing the fungi of the Mycorrhiza!) is added. The bulbs are then 4 to 6 inches below the ground surface.
During the entire year, but especially when inspecting the bulbs as the baskets are lifted, diseased parts and diseased bulbs are removed. The diseased material is discarded, and is not put in the compost heap. See also Galanthus: Diseases and plagues.
Galanthuses can be propagated in various ways. Many species and hybrids form one or more bulblets on every bulb each year. After a few years a group or clump forms from one bulb. It is wise to then split this clump. You can do this in the three aforementioned methods, being “in the brown”, “in the white” or “in the green”. We prefer “in the brown”. Place the bulbs two inches apart, and let them grow on for a few years. If you have any surplus bulbs, you could sell them or swap them. Giving them away is another fine possibility.
There are also hybrids that multiply very slowly. If you would like to speed up that process, you might consider “Chipping” or “Twinscaling”. For a video of this process, click here.
It may seem hard at first, and it might not always work, but it is possible to grow twenty new bulbs from a single one! We strongly advise you to not try this experiment by starting with a bulb of an hybrid that you recently bought for £ 100,00!
And then of course, you can also harvest seeds and then simply plant those. It could easily take four years before you have grown a flowering bulb from seed. For more information you could visit the page about Hybrids.