When and how do you divide snowdrops?
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Gardening expert Martyn Davey answers your questions.
Recently I have been to several gardens with and excellent display of snowdrops; they even seem to grow happily on the side of the road in many places. Could you please advise what is the best way to move and establish snow drops as we would really like to have more in our garden? I have tried planting bulbs that are sold in garden centres in the autumn with little success what is the best way to get them to grow for me?
S Jackson, Plumstead
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Drifts of snowdrops, white against a dark background, look particularly eye-catching at this time of year when little else is in flower. We're lucky to enjoy a number of excellent gardens and woodlands in Norfolk and Suffolk with mass groups of snowdrops. Some of which have open days where you are able to purchase snowdrops in the green. Please avoid lifting wild clumps from woodlands or road sides as these are for the benefit of all and it is a criminal offense to remove wild flowers from the countryside.
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There are a number of snowdrops that are worth going out of your way to get you don't have to stick to the single flowered Galanthus Nivalis there are many others that will make small clumps around your garden Galanthus 'Magnet' AGM is one in particular that will do well in the garden or at the back of a Container, even under a canopy of deciduous trees amid the leaf mould.
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 would move them in early March 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'.
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 and by chipping.
Failing all this put a note in you diary to order snow drop bulbs in June when bulb growers are lifting them to sell, and ensure you plant them as soon as you get them so they don't dry out. You could pot them into 9cm pots of multi-purpose compost and leave them in the shade until early spring and then plant them out when you are sure they are going to grow.
Jobs for this week in the garden
Finish any hedge cutting this week as the birds will be nesting soon and you don't want to disturb them.
Cut back deciduous grasses left uncut over the winter, remove dead grass from evergreen grasses.
Prune winter-flowering shrubs that have finished flowering.