If you were moving to a new home and could take only one or two plants from your current garden, what would they be? I’ve actually given serious thought to this problem, and come up with my own conclusion — I’d certainly take my snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis). They’re just the common species, not a fancy hybrid, but I love them more than any other spring bulb. But moving snowdrops isn’t such an easy thing to do.
Lovely white snowdrops are just breaking ground in sunny spots, still holding their flowers tightly shut. Each day they’re taller, and soon will open; then spring will really be with us. I have several good patches of them, meaning they’re fairly thick and have even begun to spread. But it has been a struggle over a dozen or more years, considering the many hundreds I’ve planted.
I think they must be quite particular about how deep they’re planted, and the periods of dry and wet conditions they experience over a growing season. My successful patches surround a huge spruce tree, where the soil is moist in spring and autumn, and tends to dryness in summer (although I do irrigate the area). Not unlike other spring bulbs, snowdrops seem to prefer a dry dormancy during summer.
When I accidentally disturbed one of these patches, I noticed the bulbs rest quite shallowly in the soil. I’m certain I planted them deeper, and perhaps that’s the cause for so many of them failing to appear. In some mysterious way, these successful patches of snowdrop bulbs have managed to work themselves higher in the soil, reaching a near-surface level that suits them.
I’ve looked for advice about moving snowdrops, and frequently I read that they should be moved “in the green,” that is, with vigorous green leaves still standing. However, I’ve never seen a proper explanation for why this is an appropriate time for lifting the little bulbs. It seems to me that if the foliage is green, it’s continuing to produce energy that is stored in the bulb, and that’s not necessarily something I want to interrupt. I think it would be best to wait until the foliage is part brown, the bulbs have finished their flower- and seed-making cycles, and they’re on the verge of entering dormancy.
I suspect the tricky part of relocating snowdrops would be keeping them at their formerly shallow level. My strategy might be to simply scratch up the soil in the new location, set the bulbs on the surface, and gently mound two to four inches (5 to 10 cm) of soil over them. This soil would sink to half of its depth in a couple of weeks, particularly if there was rainfall; it might be necessary to add more soil.
I’d also collect a generous amount of spruce needles from the original location, and spread them around as a mulch. Who knows, the spruce needles might be the key to success. You just never know what’s going on between plants.