Snowdrop question

Jim McKenney
Mon, 20 Dec 2010 16:00:54 PST
John Grimshaw’s asseverations on the topic of moving snowdrops, which I
trust were made with the best of intentions, certainly run counter to a
lifetime of my experiences as a backyard snowdrop grower. Surely I’m not the
only one to send off a visitor with a freshly dug clump in bloom, or to host
visitors bearing recently dug blooming plants from their garden. And surely
those plants were not the only ones in the history of the cultivation of
snowdrops which didn’t miss a beat and went on to thrive and bloom in their
new homes. Were they as floriferous when they bloomed the next year as they
might have been had they been moved when dormant? Perhaps not, but how many
home gardeners look at it that way? 


My take on this is that John’s advice, although doubtless good advice to the
commercial grower, is of little real relevance to the home grower. I’ll
concede that plants moved while in full growth do experience some setback;
the question is, is it a horticulturally significant setback? My experience
in a lifetime of moving snowdrops in my home garden says it is not. To the
person running a snowdrop production facility, where every gram of bulb
represents potential profit, perhaps it is.


Nor do I have any trouble understanding why a commercial grower would feel
umbrage at the expectation that plants be dug in the green. It’s a mess,
such plants are heavier than dormant bulbs, and the foliage is apt to turn
into a slimy goop during long transit.  The problem as I see it is not that
plants dug in the green do not do well; the problem is that growers
subjected to the expectation that they provide plants in the green are
seriously inconvenienced. 


At this point I’m tempted to ask if there is any formal data to back the
various claims being made. I’m running a home garden, not an agricultural
experiment station. I know what I’ve experienced, and what I’ve experienced
suggests that digging snowdrops in the green does not harm the plants in a
significant way. But I’m not in the business of selling snowdrops and
shipping them abroad. I don’t answer to a possibly misinformed public, to a
public which sometimes lacks common gardening sense and has unreasonable
expectations. My snowdrops go to good homes, not to the highest bidder.   


I’m in complete agreement with John in preferring that snowdrops be moved
when dormant. But to promote without exception the moving of plants in the
dormant state over those still growing overlooks the long and sad history of
snowdrop marketing here in North America. Some snowdrops respond better to
the processes which put them in a dormant state under commercial conditions.
As a youngster, I quickly learned that Galanthus elwesii purchased as dry
bulbs from the bulb bins of local dealers in the autumn almost always went
on to bloom well and prosper. And just as certainly I learned that bulbs of
the common snowdrop, especially in its double-flowered form, gave a very
poor showing indeed – if they grew at all. 


In other words, if by dormant bulbs one means bulbs during the months of
June to September in the Northern Hemisphere  which have naturally entered
dormancy and are being sent out by a responsible grower, then I’m all for
it. If I were working as the buyer for a bulb broker, and if, when visiting
the growing fields, he offered to dig the snowdrops blooming at that time
for me immediately, of course I would refuse the offer.


But if I’m visiting a friend’s garden and  friend puts spade to loam and
says “Here, I want you to try this”, you had better believe that I will not
stand on ceremony and upbraid him for poor horticultural practice!


I’m convinced that the experienced grower can make either way - dormant or
in the green -  work successfully, And my experience has also shown me that
those who do not know what they are doing can make either approach fail.



Jim McKenney

Montgomery County, Maryland, USA, 39.03871º North, 77.09829º West, USDA zone

My Virtual Maryland Garden



Webmaster Potomac Valley Chapter, NARGS 

Editor PVC Bulletin 


Webmaster Potomac Lily Society







More information about the pbs mailing list