The Beauty and Benefits of Snow in the Garden

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Whatever you may think of snow (and snow removal!), remember the old saying, “A good winter with snow makes all the plants grow.” If you are a gardener who lives in a winter wonderland, consider the benefits of snow!

I had almost forgotten how pretty the snow can be, hanging in the trees, blanketing the ground, covering up all the outdoor projects left undone. The neighbors will never know you didn’t clean up those old squash vines. Under a covering of snow all gardens become equal.

Snow Insulates the Soil and Plants

Snow is mostly air surrounded by a little frozen water, and despite how cold it feels to the skin, it is an excellent insulator of the soil.

I fear for the perennials when the temperatures drop suddenly before we have enough snow cover to protect the roots. Without snow, very cold temperatures can freeze the soil deeper and deeper. In wintry climates, this could lead to damage of root systems of trees and shrubs. Snow prevents extreme cold temperatures from harming plants.

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Snow Protects Against Temperature Fluctuations

Snow protects against against wide temperature fluctuations in the soil. Under that cozy comforter of white, the roots of perennials, bulbs, ground covers, and strawberry plants are protected from the freeze-thaw cycle that can heave tender roots right out of the ground.

Snow also helps conserve soil moisture over the winter. Without snow, milder temperatures and the sun could warm the soil surface, leading to damage from soil heaving, which can break roots and dry out plant parts.

Snow is Winter Mulch

Snow is a form of mulch! If you have not yet mulched perennial beds, with snow, you may not have to. If little snow is on the beds, however, it would be good to mulch. In most cases, 2 to 4 inches of mulch, such as straw, pine needles, hay or bark chips, give adequate protection. For some plants, such as roses, more elaborate protection is needed.

You can mulch right on top of the snow. It’s better to wait until after temperatures are consistently below freezing to apply the mulch. Applying too early can smother the plant and encourage disease development.

Snow Adds Beauty

Of course, we can all enjoy the beauty of the tree barks and evergreens contrasting against the white backdrop. Everything looks more visible, from ornamental grasses to that bright red cardinal outside your kitchen window.

Dealing with Heavy Snow

Of course, heavy snow can really weigh down branches, especially multi-stemmed shrubs. Otherwise, the weight of the snow can bend branches to the ground, cutting off circulation of food manufactured by the leaves to the roots. If possible, in the fall, bundle stems together using burlap or canvas. In the winter, take a broom and carefully brush heavy snows from branches as soon as possible but don’t try to remove ice. More damage to the bark probably will occur than if the ice is allowed to melt on its own.

With young trees, you may also wish to wrap the trunks with a commercial tree wrap to help prevent bark from splitting from temperature extremes.

Also, as with regular mulch, heavy snow “mulch” against the trunks of trees hides voles, rabbits, and other critters. It be be worthwhile to remove the snow from young trees so their tender bark is not gnawed away. Just be very very careful with a shovel not to cause even the smallest mechanical injury.

Even though snow removal is a back breaking chore, we need the moisture that each snow crystal provides for our gardens. Next time you are out shoveling, remember the benefits of snow and think of butterflies and apple blossoms!

See a guide to snowflake shapes.

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