Snowdrop, Galanthus nivalis and other Galanthus species, are one of the best spring flowering plants. The common advice given for transplanting them is that it should be done ‘in the green’. Transplanting in the green means transplanting snowdrops right after flowering, while the leaves are still green.
I suspect that this myth has been handed down for many generations, but it is not based on fact. Lets have a closer look.
Snowdrop Life Cycle
Snowdrops are bulbs, very much like tulips and daffodils. They spend the hot summer as dormant bulbs underground and look just like the bulbs you buy in fall. From the outside not much is happening, but inside, the snowdrop bulb is developing the leaves and flowers for next year.
In fall, as rain becomes more common and temperatures are falling, the snowdrop starts to grow new roots. Once roots have a good start the bulb also starts making new leaves. If you look at your planted bulbs in fall you won’t see any new growth, but next years leaves are sitting just below the soil surface waiting for spring.
All of this growing takes a lot of energy and plant food that is taken from the reserves in the bulb.
In spring, the leaves and flowers develop more and show themselves above ground. During and after flowering, the snowdrop makes more food in it’s leaves. The leaves become a food production plant for the bulb. As food is made it is shipped down to the bulb preparing it for the summer rest. As this takes place the bulb expands and becomes plump again.
In early summer the roots and leaves start to die off as the bulb starts it’s resting phase again.
Transplanting in the Green
There are two ways to transplant snowdrops in spring. You can buy a pot of growing bulbs and simply put the whole clump into the ground. This will cause minimal root disturbance and should not affect flowering in the future.
You can also dig up some plants and move them just after flowering. This can be successful if done very carefully, but the reality is that you will almost certainly damage roots and leaves in the process. If this happens, the plant is less able to produce food for the bulb which results in smaller bulbs. Smaller bulbs result in fewer flowers the following year. The plant will recover in a year or two and therefore transplanting ‘in the green’ does work.
Transplant in the Brown
A much better approach is to leave the snowdrop alone. The leaves will eventually dry up showing you that the bulb is dormant. You can then dig up the snowdrops and replant them, immediately, in a new location. Using this approach will have very little effect on the snowdrop and it will bloom great next year.
Many bulbs can be left dry above ground for the summer and it will not harm them. Snowdrops are not one of them. They dry out very fast and should not be left drying for more than a day or two. Replant them as soon as you dig them up.