Northern Shade Gardening

Earliest Spring Bulbs Flower at Edge of Snow

Sunday, April 24, 2011 Category: Bulbs

The exquisite flowers of Galanthus elwesii (snowdrops) and Crocus chrysanthus (snow crocus) bring tremendous joy, all out of proportion to their diminutive petal size. These small spring bulbs are the most anticipated in my garden. Both live up to their name, and start flowering right at the edge of the receding snow line. They don’t mind the freezing spring nights, and take advantage of the warm daylight filtering through the bare tree branches.

Crocus chrysanthus 'Snowbunting' (snow crocus) collage

Crocus chrysanthus 'Snow Bunting' (snow crocus) collage

These Crocus chrysanthus ‘Snow Bunting’ started flowering at the edge of the snow, just a day after it melted from above them. You can see the rest of the snow behind them, which still covers much of the garden. The little snow crocus don’t bother waiting for promises of warmer days. They get right to work, unrolling their pure white petals to expose the golden anthers inside. Any awakening pollinators should be happy to find the crocus flowers.

I planted the ‘Snow Bunting’ two falls ago, and they have twice as many flowers on them as last year. It’s good to know that they appreciate the site and are flourishing. This area gets shadier in the summer, but gets a medium amount of light in early spring, when the crocus can use it.

I have many other snow crocus just a little ways over, but they are still covered in deeper snow. If this warm weather continues, they might be flowering by the end of the week. We had deep cover this winter, so where snow patches have melted closer to the warmth of the house, the green of Crocus vernus (large Dutch crocus) has started to appear. Although they usually flower after the little snow crocus, they might be first this year, other than ‘Snow Bunting’. If the C. vernus flower early, and the C. chrysanthus flower late, they might both flower together this spring, which should make for a great display.

Galanthus elwesii first snowdrops

Galanthus elwesii first snowdrops

The Galanthus elwesii are also early risers. This is a ladybug’s view of the flowers, where you can see the details of green markings on the inner petals. The snowdrops are such graceful looking flowers, for having such a tough disposition. Mine don’t seem to spread much, and are still a fairly small patch.

The rest of the snowdrop bulbs are just popping their tips above the leaves. I leave the fallen leaves on the garden as a protective mulch, and have just started removing it, where it’s not still frozen to the ground. There are some other early spring bulbs nearby showing a few green tips through the leaves. The Chionodoxa (glory of the snow) and Scilla (squills) should be up soon, and will start flowering quickly, too.

earliest spring bulb flowers

earliest spring bulb flowers

Above is a collage of some early spring sightings this weekend. On the upper left is a picture of a fat, pink Helleborus bud. The Helleborus ‘Ivory Prince’ perennials are full of these plump buds, which look as attractive as flowers. In another week or so, they should be opening as well. On the upper right are the leaves of Crocus vernus. There are dozens and dozens of them looking like green spears thrusting out of the old, crystallized snow and ice.

These first bulbs are flowering about 3 weeks later than last year. After a long off-season, it’s so heartening to finally see the first blooms. Now that the ground can finally feel the warmth of the sun, the rest of the bulbs should be coaxed out soon, and liven up the garden. I love the earliest spring bulbs that satisfy your thirst for blooms after the long flower drought, so pretty, so dainty,  and so appreciated.

27 Responses to “Earliest Spring Bulbs Flower at Edge of Snow” »

  1. The Garden Ms. S :
    April 24, 2011 at 8:53 pm

    What a cheery sight. I saw a few peeking out from under some leaves on a neighbour’s front south-facing lawn this morning. Funny, I thought of you and hoped yours were doing the same. Seems the crocuses must all be finally bursting forth. Enjoy!

  2. Diane :
    April 24, 2011 at 9:16 pm

    Oh, these are just wonderful! I have tried snowdrops but they don’t come up. I thought maybe my winter’s are too harsh, but since you grow them in Edmonton, I should be able to. Will try again this fall.

    Nice to see your blog again! Cheers from Ontario.

  3. Northern Shade :
    April 24, 2011 at 10:09 pm

    The Garden Ms. S, about a week ago (you know that last snowfall), I was wondering how the bulbs would be doing this spring, after the harsh winter weather. Today, everything is popping up like crazy, with even more green tips appearing by the end of the day. It really is uplifting to see the growth and flowers.

    Diane, the first couple of times I planted snowdrops, I didn’t get any up. I switched to this site that has an Eastern exposure, under a willow tree, and they have come up for three springs now. It might be the setting, or perhaps I lucked out with better bulbs. However, they haven’t started spreading much yet. I might plant more here this fall. We had a very cold and long winter, and they survived the – 35º C/ – 40º C (-31º F to -40º F) well, but we also had good snow cover.

  4. Köögikata :
    April 24, 2011 at 10:59 pm

    Oh, I really thought, after so long and hard winter, that Estonia is last place on earth where spring flowers start bloom, but our snowdrops and first crocuses were up even 2-3 weeks ago already.
    Our winter was long and very cold too – more than week was even -30º C, but at least half meter of snow came right on start of winter and covered soft ground with pillow, so we can see signs about plants who shouldn’t survive our winters at all. From other hand some hardy evergreen plants suffer a lot after that.

    But so nice to see spring is back and you too!

  5. Northern Shade :
    April 25, 2011 at 7:18 am

    Köögikata, I’m so glad that I have lots of the tiny, early flowering bulbs, because I would not want to wait any longer to see the garden in bloom. Our gardening season is short here, and this year’s extended winter delayed things more.

    The other plants I’ve really appreciated this weekend are the Heuchera (coral bells), which are showing their evergreen leaves as the snow melts from above them. They have preserved most of their decorative foliage, and are providing a lot of colour in the garden.

  6. kb :
    April 25, 2011 at 9:11 am

    I must be in the cold part of Edmonton. No flowers yet in my yard. No sign of a crocus or snowdrop yet. As things look now, the earliest blooms will likely come on auriculas overwintered in pots in a cold frame, and not for another few days. I planted snowdrop bulbs last fall for the second time, after a failed first attempt. This fall, maybe I’ll try the east side of the willow. Thanks for sharing your pictures — very encouraging.

  7. Northern Shade :
    April 25, 2011 at 9:52 am

    Kb, it probably won’t be long now, as 6 days ago there were no signs in my garden, and this morning there are hundreds of green bulb tips, mostly crocus, spearing the dried fall leaves. I was tempted a few times to get out my blow dryer and a long extension cord to hurry things along. :)

    Perhaps you will see your snowdrops in a few days, especially with the extra warm weather of the last few days. If not, it’s worth trying planting more Galanthus bulbs in the autumn, because seeing those extra early blooms renews your enthusiasm, and gets you in the gardening mood. I’ve tramped through the snow in my yard numerous times this week, to observe the bulb patches. I’ve read that it’s especially important with Galanthus to get the bulbs very fresh, as soon as they are available in the fall. In other places they sell them in spring ‘in the green’, already growing and ready to plant, which is supposed to be the most successful of all, but I have never heard or seen them available that way around Alberta.

  8. C :
    April 25, 2011 at 10:17 am

    Great to see your early blooms. I’m in Calgary and planted some Hellebores last August – on the north side of my house in a shady area – alas they are still under quite a bit of snow – and I’m worried they will not come up (they were labeled zone 4 though now I understand I can get some varieties that are zone 3). One of them is Ivory Prince. Should I try to remove the snow?

  9. C :
    April 25, 2011 at 10:20 am

    Hi again…
    One more thing – I do have lots of bulb tips peeking out – and on the west side of my house (warm afternoon sun) I have some tulips at 5 inches tall. I planted about 200 bulbs all over my recently re-landscaped yard, – but have certainly lost some to squirrels though I’ve tucked some cat hair around them wherever I can. Any other suggestions?

  10. Northern Shade :
    April 25, 2011 at 10:45 am

    C, I wouldn’t remove the snow from the Helleborus. Did you leave the foliage on in the fall? The ‘Ivory Prince’ are evergreen and retain the leaves underneath the snow remarkably well. In fact, with good, consistent snow cover, the leaves usually come out of the deep freeze looking just about as fresh as they did in the summer. I have 6 fairly large ‘Ivory Prince’, and only had to remove 3 or 4 damaged leaves yesterday in total. Now, they are providing a large patch of fresh green colour, with lots of plump, dark pink flower buds. Under the snow, they also had a layer of fallen willow leaves to insulate them. If you are eager to see some green, you could gently remove the snow, but I don’t think it would hurt them to leave it. In Calgary, with the Chinooks, it would be especially important to have snow cover on them over the winter, so the leaves don’t dry out.

    Here is an earlier post showing Helleborus ‘Ivory Prince’ through the season. The second picture shows a leaf under the snow. Here’s another one about ‘Ivory Prince’. They are really beautiful plants, with both great foliage and pretty flowers that last a long time.

    Although hellebores aren’t usually recommended for the prairies, I’ve found ‘Ivory Prince’ to be very hardy here. Since they have performed so well, I’m going to try some other Helleborus x ericsmithii (Ivory Prince is one x ericsmithii type) this year that are actually rated for much warmer zones. I was going to plant them last fall, but thought I’d wait until spring, so they get a whole growing season to establish themselves. I’ll post how the new types survive the next winter.

  11. Northern Shade :
    April 25, 2011 at 11:16 am

    C, I just saw your second comment; it had got diverted. I’m not sure of other deterrents, as I haven’t had too much of a problem with my bulbs, even though I have a few squirrels around the yard. Perhaps they are too busy with the spruce cones. Some people cover the newly planted bulbs with chicken wire for a short time, but I haven’t tried it, and since yours are spread out, it probably wouldn’t be practical.

  12. Marit :
    April 25, 2011 at 3:23 pm

    So nice that you are “back”! I can see snow on your photos. Here it has been summer with 24 Celsius today. Hope you will get some warm weather too.

  13. Rebecca @ In The Garden :
    April 25, 2011 at 4:19 pm

    What gorgeous pictures! I agree that after the extra long winter the first spring blooms are a most welcome sight. Your snowdrops are lovely, I have tried to grow them a few times but they just won’t come up for me. At least I have the reliable crocuses, and the tops of tulips and daffs are poking through now too.

  14. Northern Shade :
    April 25, 2011 at 5:55 pm

    Marit, it warmed up quite a bit over the last couple of days, which helps encourage all the bulbs along. On Friday, one section was under 7 cm (3 in) of icy snow, and this afternoon I was astonished to see the first Crocus crysanthus ‘Fuscotinctus’ blooming in that very spot, with the ice just melted at its edge.

    Rebecca, I had a blast pulling the leaves back to see the crocus tips. Now they are too numerous to count. It’s amazing how many have popped up yesterday and today. I have a few Crocus chrydanthus flowers that opened today, and some partially open purple Crocus vernus. It looks like both the early and late crocus are going to flower at the same time this year.

  15. VW :
    April 25, 2011 at 6:49 pm

    Hooray for you finally getting some flowers! My snowdrops have not done very well, only a couple bloomed this year out of the 20+ I planted a couple of years ago. Glad yours are making a showing.

  16. Northern Shade :
    April 25, 2011 at 7:56 pm

    VW, there are about 20 or so planted here, with only around ten up so far. It would be nice to have these spread more. I’d augment them with others in a fall planting, but I don’t want to risk dig up these bulbs which bloom well, and just to the right are other types of bulbs.

  17. irena :
    April 25, 2011 at 7:57 pm

    glad to see you are enjoying some blooms. My crocus have just wrapped up three weeks worth of blooms. My hellebore “Ivory Prince” looks exactly like yours right now. Can’t wait for it to flower.

  18. Northern Shade :
    April 25, 2011 at 8:04 pm

    Irena, I love the little crocus, with their cheery flowers and uncomplaining outlook. As the snow melted at the edges of the largest crocus bed today, more and more of them were rising up. I’m looking forward to a purple and gold carpet.

    Don’t the rose pink buds on ‘Ivory Prince’ look great? I really enjoy watching them emerge.

  19. Joy :
    April 26, 2011 at 11:09 am

    Northern Shade you have completely sold me on getting snow drops for next season .. these are so beautiful!!
    Those first flowers are so needed for us to remember how much we connect with our gardens after such a long drab winter .. I am already making notes on what Spring bulbs I NEED to have for next year : )
    Joy
    PS I have Ivory Prince as well and he is a handsome boy !

  20. Northern Shade :
    April 26, 2011 at 12:05 pm

    Joy, the snowdrops do look sweet. Their delicate little flowers would be hard to notice in the fully flowering summer garden, with its tangle of foliage, but they are perfect in the early spring garden, before most perennials get going.

  21. C :
    April 27, 2011 at 10:17 am

    A further update from C above (I just figured out how to address the email properly). Only two days later and I am completely thrilled to say that the snow has melted down enough that I can now see my _bright_ green Hellebore foliage – some above the snow and some can be seen bright green under the snow that has melted to ice! I’m so excited. I took some photos but don’t see an attachment function – and in any case I’m sure you have seen this sight many times. I will be vigilant, as per your advice – about keeping snow on them next winter as the Chinooks can be very drying. However, there has been continuous snow cover in this shady corner of my yard every year for the past 3 winters that we have been in this house, so I hope that’s the norm. My bulbs are also coming up with not too much interference – the odd nibble on the tips. Thanks

  22. Northern Shade :
    April 27, 2011 at 5:24 pm

    C, it is exciting to see the frozen foliage, looking so fresh as it emerges from the surrounding glacier. You wouldn’t think that evergreen perennials would do well in our cold winters, but these are remarkably adapted to the conditions. It is a real boost to have some fresh greenery, when the rest of the garden can look so beige and bland in earliest spring. Some other good evergreen plants for early colour are the Heuchera (coral bells). It sounds like you will have some bulb flowers to go with the green soon.

  23. C :
    April 29, 2011 at 8:56 pm

    Yes I also planted quite a few Heucheras last year – some lime colored and some very dark purple – the ones that were heavily snow covered are flattened and blackened – whereas the ones that were only lightly snow covered have retained their shape and color – but new leaves are coming out of the center of all of them. I also have some brunnera – not much happening yet – but someone at a garden store raved about them last season so I have high expectations.

  24. Northern Shade :
    April 29, 2011 at 10:04 pm

    C, I’ve become a big fan of Heuchera, Tiarella and Heucherella, because of the way they lengthen the gardening season. Most of mine have come out of the snow with garden ready foliage. They have given an instant look to the garden, and get new leaves fairly quickly, too. They have done very well in some very shady spots, but some of the newest cultivars I’ve seen are being bred for the sun.

    Brunnera are one of my favourite plants for shade, especially the ones with silver on their leaves, like Jack Frost. I have quite a few groups of them around the garden. The foliage looks amazing as it matures through the summer, and the pretty blue flowers look fantastic in spring. I would highly recommend them for under the trees. They start sprouting now, and are usually flowering by May.

  25. C :
    April 30, 2011 at 8:40 am

    I will continue to follow your site closely – as I have several challenges in the garden of this yard we moved to 2 years ago. The main shade bed is on the north side of the house, and I am optimistic that it will work well with the plantings I have mentioned above plus hostas, primulas, and shrubs – cimifugas, monkshood, goatsbeard. But my bigger challenge on the far north side of the property is a stand of 9, 100 year old, 60-70 foot tall spruce trees. So the ground under them is mostly shaded and dry, but there is some hot afternoon sun on sunny days. There is continuous dropping of cones and needles. I’m determined to try to plant under them – so have started with some shrubs (e.g. dogwood, weigela) on the perimeter, some groupings of iris and daylily (splittings from old hardy plants) and am trying some groundcovers (creeping jenny, lamium etc.) We took out the grass and re-did that whole side of the property with new beds last season and of course found lots of spruce roots everywhere so I’m not sure how far the impact of these trees will extend into our new planting area. The last resort will be to take these trees out – I’ve been told by an arborist that some of them are nearing their maximum lifespan anyway. That seems like a dramatic move – but if all of the gardening I’d like to do on that side of the property is adversely affected it might be necessary.

  26. Elziee :
    May 4, 2011 at 1:48 pm

    I will never understand these wonderful spring flowers that lift their heads while the snow still is laying on the ground. But I’m very thankful for them!!
    Lovely pictures you share.
    Hope you have a nice day.
    Love Elzie

  27. Northern Shade :
    May 4, 2011 at 5:40 pm

    Elzie, their hardiness is surprising. They endure extreme temperatures, to take advantage of the fresh water and lack of competition. I really appreciate these flowers that make such a distinctive beginning to the gardening season.

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