Snow and Your Garden

Snow and Your Garden

By Michael Jenkins

As we watch the news, we’re hearing more concerns about a polar vortex bringing snow to a wide swath of North America. That got us thinking—what impact does snow have on a garden? How does snow affect our plants? How can we care for our gardens in the snow? And that in turn inspired this blog. While we’ve written about cold weather gardening and dealing with unseasonable weather before,  it’s been a while since we’ve talked about snow. So let’s dig in and learn about snow and your garden, and how you can care for your plants when the white stuff comes down.

Is Snow Good or Bad for Your Garden?

So, let’s start with the obvious—is snow good or bad for your garden? The answer, of course, is “it depends”. Snow can have some harmful effects in the garden, but it also brings some advantages as well. For example—due to its flakey, crystalline structure, snow traps air and thus acts as an insulator. While it’s still frozen, it can keep the soil from getting as cold as the air above it—a real blessing to winter plants! Snow is also precipitation, so it does (eventually) add water to the soil and provide hydration for both plants and animals. The most interesting benefit of snow isn’t quite as obvious; in fact, it’s not visible at all. As snow travels to earth, it traps molecules and particles suspended in the air and brings them to earth. This includes quite a bit of nitrogen, a vital nutrient for most plants and a critical component of fertilizer. A good snow—along with good use of fertilizer or compost—can  help refresh the soil, providing valuable nutrition for plants when spring comes.

However, there are some downsides to snow as well. Heavy snow can accumulate on branches and limbs, eventually damaging them or tearing them down entirely. Heavily packed snow—like the kind of snow left behind by a snowplow, shoveling snow, or snow sliding off a roof—can cause similar damage to plants, trees, and shrubs.  Packed snow can also take longer to melt, which can prolonge cold temperatures and cause delayed growth or damage when spring comes.

Dealing with Snow in Your Garden

With all that in mind, let’s talk about how we can best manage snow in our gardens and care for gardens during snowy conditions.  Snow may seem daunting, but there are some steps we can take to mitigate the problems it causes and maximize the benefits of snow in the garden:

  • If you’re dealing with ongoing or especially heavy snowfall, when it is safe to do so, use a broom or garden rake to brush snow off of limbs, shrubs, and bushes. This can prevent heavy snow buildup and the damage it causes to your trees and other plants. DO NOT try to remove ice, as doing so can cause damage to your plants!
  • Trees and bushes with large, flexible limbs or branches might benefit from being wrapped in burlap for the winter. Gently bundle the stems or branches against the trunk or main stem, and then gently but firmly wrap with burlap or a tree wrap. This can help provide insulation while preventing snow and ice buildup and the resulting damage. Young trees and shrubs may also benefit from having their central stems or trunks wrapped, for both insulation and to prevent direct contact with ice.

  • As always in gardening, planning ahead is key. If you live in an area that gets regular snow, plan your garden around areas of snow accumulation. Snow sliding off your roof can damage the plants below, so avoid planting in such spaces. Likewise, if you’re lucky enough to have a regular snowplow service, avoid planting where the plowed snow piles up. Snow that drifts naturally is less problematic, but you may want to avoid planting perennials where snow is likely to linger in the spring.

Making the Most of Winter Snow

We have one final tip for dealing with winter snow in your garden—enjoy it! Snow is a natural weather phenomenon and part of the cycle of the year in many places. It fulfills a number of roles in the ecosystem, and it can do the same for your garden if managed properly. With a little planning and care, your garden can make the most of winter snow while you enjoy its beauty—preferably while warm and indoors!

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