Snow drops are spring’s joyful, early warning system

Minor bulbs such as snow drops can have a major effect on your seasonal outlook.

Snow drops. Photo credit: Patrick Voyle

Snow drops. Photo credit: Patrick Voyle

As the snow retreats after the longest winter of our lives, those first green shoots and flowers are long-anticipated events. Often, the first flowers are snow drops. They come by their common name, honestly. It is because of the white flowers and their ability to push their way through the snow. In Europe, they are sometimes referred to as snow piercers. Their botanical name is Galanthus nivalis. The Galanthus name means “milk flower” and nivalis means “of the snow.”

These small, white flowers with nodding heads are known for naturalizing. This indicates that the plants multiply and soon there are more without any work by the gardener. Michigan is only one of 16 states that snow drops have naturalized in. This bulb is originally from Europe and can handle cold temperatures and is hardy from zones 3 to 6.

Smart gardeners may appreciate the current season, but are always looking ahead. In the fall, they plant any one of a number of small, spring-flowering bulbs that group together under the name of “minor bulbs.” They can be considered minor because of their diminutive size or the fact they are not as popular as the big bulbs like tulips, hyacinth and daffodils. Some of group includes Scilla or Squill, which can be blue or white; Chionodoxa or Glory in the Snow, which are blue and white; Puschkinia, which are pale blue; and Eranthus or Winter Aconite, which are a brilliant yellow. Many gardeners are already familiar with Muscari or Grape Hyacinth. These little beauties even smell like grapes.

A big advantage to snow drops and other minor bulbs is that they are almost always resistant to deer and other critters. Another advantage is that they are usually not expensive and they multiply on their own.

Michigan State University Extension horticulture educators are often asked about good places to plant spring-flowering bulbs. Bulbs will do poorly in heavy clay soils and wet soils. They will be very comfortable in partial sun or light shade.

If having spring bulbs bloom a bit earlier is a goal, plant bulbs on the south or west side of a large rock or building. Heat will be absorbed and the ground will warm earlier than more exposed areas. These little gems are equipped for frosts and freezes so they are rarely damaged.

If early spring color is on your Smart Gardener hit list, look to purchase these bulbs this fall. Plant them immediately and be ready to be amazed in the spring of 2015.

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