Little sister of the
Snowdrops are one of the best plants to grow to provide early nectar for pollinators emerging from hibernation
Insect declines have been widely reported recently. One way to help butterflies, bees and other insects is to make sure your garden or community green space is packed with nectar-rich plants for as much of the year as possible.
Spring-flowering bulbs are one of the best ways to ensure early supplies of nectar for pollinators, and snowdrops are usually the first flowers to appear – sometimes emerging as early as January. This is good news for bumblebees and other pollinators that may wake up from hibernation during warm spells of winter weather – there's very little else about in the way of nectar at this time of year, so those snowdrops can be a real lifeline.
Snowdrops are available in many different varieties, including frilly, double forms of the flower – but for maximum wildlife benefit, it's best to opt for the single-flowered, native variety Galanthus nivalis, or common snowdrop.
The best way to grow snowdrops is to plant them 'in the green', when the plants are still in leaf. In late spring look out for pots of the plants for sale in garden centres and nurseries.
Or divide existing clumps of snowdrops when the flowers have faded and the foliage has died back. Split congested clumps into groups of four or five bulbs and replant quickly, before the bulbs have a chance to dry out.
Like other spring-flowering bulbs, snowdrops can also be grown by planting bulbs in autumn. As snowdrop bulbs are prone to drying out, buy them as soon as they become available – and don't delay planting them out when you get them home.
Snowdrops look wonderful naturalised in lawns, and they also thrive in semi-shaded positions under trees.
Like many of our native wildflowers, snowdrops have been given lots of different names over the years. Galanthus translates as 'milk flower' in Latin, but other names include 'common bells', 'fair maids of February', 'snow-piercer' and 'dingle-dangle'.
Snowdrops also have a strong association with Christianity, and are frequently found in churchyards – bunches of the flowers were traditionally brought into churches as symbols of purity, and scattered on altars on Candlemas Day (2 February). So the flowers are also sometimes known as 'Candlemas bells' or 'Candlemas lily'.
Perhaps the loveliest name for snowdrops, though, is 'little sister of the snows' – a perfect description of this hardy little flower than can push through the harshest weather to herald the coming of spring.
If you missed the opportunity to plant bulbs in the autumn, you can still create lovely nectar-rich displays in patio pots and flower beds. It's easy to find potted bulbs for sale, and these have can have an immediate, cheerful and colourful impact in the garden – or in window-boxes and pots on a balcony.
Nectar-rich spring-flowering bulbs include grape hyacinth, winter aconite, alliums and crocus.
Crocuses are particularly good for attracting pollinators. They flower in late February and early March, taking over from snowdrops as an excellent food source for hungry bumblebees.
And as they're available in a wide range of shades – from yellow and white to pink and purple – they're fantastic for adding a splash of colour in the lawn, at the front of flower beds, or in pots on the patio.
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Little Green Space January 2022