The Minnesota Landscape Arboretum gardeners and I are on the lookout each March for the first snowdrop flowers, the first perennial garden plant to bloom and a marker of the beginning of the growing season.
A few of the white, bell-like flowers opened March 16 last year, announcing the end of winter.
In botanical and gardening books, snowdrops are described as hardy bulbs with nodding flowers that bloom, while lingering patches of snow are still seen.
The type grown in the arboretum is called the common snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis), and is native to Europe and the Caucasus region. Each plant has two slender leaves about 3 to 8 inches long from which the flowers appear. The bloom period is typically about three weeks, and then the leaves wither in late spring.
Snowdrops are easy to grow and will increase naturally when given the right amount of spacing.
They like rich soil that retains moisture in a lightly shaded location, such as beneath deciduous trees or shrubs. The bulbs can be planted three inches deep and two inches apart in large patches in early fall and then left undisturbed for years.
Jim Gilbert’s Nature Notes are heard on WCCO Radio at 7:15 a.m. Sundays. His observations have been part of the Minnesota Weatherguide Environment Calendars since 1977, and he is the author of five books on nature in Minnesota. He taught and worked as a naturalist for 50 years.