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The price of snowdrops

03/07/2008

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The high cost of snowdrop bulbs

Snowdrops are not cheap and, regretfully, are unlikely ever to be so. The basic reason is their slow rate of increase which can generally be described as modest, at best.

We are all probably familiar with the way a clump of daffodils gradually increases in size and becomes mostly leaves with few flowers. We dig it up and find a large ball of bulbs. When we tease them apart, we find that there are a large number of long thin bulbs, where several years ago we planted a few chubby ones. We replant them and spread them out: within a couple of seasons we are rewarded by several patches and lots of flowers. Essentially we are witnessing the plants capacity to increase vegetatively. As the plant grows it produces daughter bulbs around the base; these are often evident on dry daffodil bulbs for sale in garden centres. Over a number of seasons the daughter bulbs detach and grow on as separate bulbs eventually producing daughter bulbs of their own.

Snowdrops do the same; but generally at a rather slow pace. A flowering sized snowdrop bulb may produce a daughter bulb every two or three years. It will be a further two or three years before the daughter bulb detaches and it may be a further year before it becomes flowering size.

If you desire a specific snowdrop, then, someone with a clump has to lift their clump and tease apart some surplus bulbs. The number of bulbs harvested will be small and it will be several years before the replanted clump has increased to the point where the harvesting can be repeated. All varieties will have arisen by chance at some time as a single bulb and been increased from there. Thus recent spectacular novelties will exist as very few bulbs initially and command very high prices. Old garden favourites may be more widespread but still require time and patience as one waits for them to slowly bulk up.