Galanthus bulbs

(Question)

I live in Toronto. Everybody on both sides of the street, north and south facing can grow snowdrops….I’ve spent loads of money on bulbs….they just don’t perform for me…north facing, but sunny …they grow wild in other gardens and lawns…I have a particular fondness for this first sign of spring but am lucky to get one tiny flower. Please advise me what you think might be the problem?

(Answer)

Snowdrops (Galanthus) are definitely a welcome sight in one’s garden after a long winter in Toronto–they often poke through the melting snow and can last several weeks. If the conditions are good, they will easily naturalize around one’s garden. Your frustration with not having success in growing them is certainly understandable; let’s look at what the problem might be.

Snowdrops will grow in both sunny or partly shady places, even under shrubs and trees; “north-facing, but sunny” should be fine as long as the bulbs get some sun in the early spring–they bloom before trees and shrubs leaf out, but will not grow in deep-shade conditions.

Snowdrops require cool winters to grow well; that’s usually not an issue in Toronto.

What is your soil like? Is it typical Toronto clay? Does it drain well? Do you amend your soil with compost or humus (leaf litter)? Galanthus prefer compost-rich, moist well-drained soil. If the soil is too wet, the bulbs will rot; non-amended clay soil will not allow good drainage. All soil types will benefit from an annual addition of compost or humus to improve drainage. The bulbs are dormant during the summer months–good drainage will prevent the bulbs from rotting. [Certainly not a problem this summer(2016) unless the area was watered constantly].

When have you planted the bulbs? Have you planted them soon after purchasing them? If the bulbs have dried out, they will not grow well. After purchasing, keep them cool and plant as soon as possible. The soil can be amended when planting the bulbs with compost; make sure that the area is well-watered after you have planted them.

As with growing tulips, the squirrels cannot be blamed–Galanthus bulbs are poisonous–squirrels will definitely avoid them.

Finally, you mention getting “one tiny flower”–it can sometimes take a year for the bulbs to become established.

By making sure that your soil drains well and the bulbs are planted where they will get part sun in the early spring, your Galanthus should be as good as your neighbours’. If you have any more questions, please do not hesitate to contact Toronto Master Gardeners. For further information about growing bulbs successfully, please see the TMG Gardening Guide: http://www.torontomastergardeners.ca/gardeningguides/toronto-master-gardeners-guide-to-bulbs-for-naturalizing-2/.