Winter brings mixed feelings for many gardeners. On one hand winter is too cold and dreary and gardeners spend their days dreaming of bright, colorful, and warm gardening days. Sometimes snow is just a nuisance at best and a dangerous element at its worst, breaking limbs and crashing cars. On the other hand, the cool crisp mornings and minimalist aesthetic of a winter landscape are a beautiful and integral part of the cycle of seasons. Snow creates a peaceful blanket, encouraging a cozy cup of tea by a fire and making winter interest shrubs really pop with color.
However you feel during the winter season, know that your garden is thriving under all that snow! While there are some concerns regarding snow on your plants, on the whole, it brings plenty of benefits with it to balance things out. Here are some reasons why your garden is enjoying all this snow.
Benefits of Snow
Warm And Cozy Insulation
A blanket of snow gets its depth from snowflakes stacking on each other, and there are plenty of air pockets between the crystalline formations. This structure makes perfect insulation for the plants underneath, protecting and even warming them against harsh, freezing temperatures.
The extra warmth from a blanket of snow means your plants can enjoy a stable and safe dormancy, with fewer chances of frost damage. If the snow lasts long enough, it can prevent the soil from freezing, which means sometimes roots can keep growing and establishing themselves even in the winter.
A Poor Man’s Fertilizer
Snowflakes falling from the sky actually attract nitrogen and sulfur from the sky. These nutrients attach themselves to the falling water crystals, and as the snow melts into the soil the nitrogen and sulfur are deposited organically into your garden. Free fertilizer!
It’s a good idea to test your soil after a winter with lots of snow so you can see what soil amendments you may actually need – before buying amendments in the spring, check to see whether or not nature already took care of it for you!
A big reason why mulch helps gardens is that it helps regulate the temperature of the soil, keeping it steady and retaining moisture despite any weather fluctuations above. Snow does the same thing!
Snow can actually protect plants from those harsh and damaging days here in Maryland where we experience a 60* day one week and a 20* day the next. Without protection, those extreme changes can confuse spring bloomers to bloom too early (then delicate buds will freeze with the next cold day), as well as allow woody branches to crack when the water inside fluctuates with the weather. If there wasn’t enough mulch from the fall, a blanket of snow is nature’s way of helping out!
Many plants have evolved expecting a good freeze in the winter. This means that roses will bloom better and fruit trees with experience better yields if it’s a old enough winter to provide snow on a regular basis. Often a fruit tree needs a certain number of chill hours in the winter in order to bear more fruit later in the year.
Apple trees and other fruit trees actually have very delicate flower buds that damage if they emerge too early and experience an extreme frost. So, here’s another instance where a blanket of snow can help protect any buds from budding too early with extra insulation.
The Perfect Kind of Hydration
Plants, especially evergreens, are still busy with their photosynthesis cycles. They need water and light. If the ground stays too frozen to supplement groundwater with a hose, then sometimes they might not get enough water during the winter and will suffer for it later. With a nice blanket of fresh snow that insulates the soil, as it melts it slowly waters soil that isn’t as frozen as it could be – a win-win for your plants!
If you can’t clean it, hide it!
Didn’t get a chance to clean your garden beds before the winter? A blanket of snow will hide all that mess, making your garden look like a pretty canvas all season long. There’s a reason so many painters have immortalized the iconic look of a winter landscape – it’s simply beautiful.
Risks That Come With Snow
Snow is heavy – very heavy. Some trees have evolved with branches that can handle the weight of snow, such as Norway Spruces or Leyland Cypress trees. But even these heavy lifters will feel the effects of a really heavy snowfall. Snow can break limbs and crush delicate branches in a really intense snowstorm, which we’ve all seen recently with this New Year’s Snow.
Knock heavy snow off of trees gently witha broom. Make sure to check shrubs and trees for breaks and cracks, and carefully prune broken limbs once temperatures come back up above freezing during the day. If it’s not broken, don’t prune it until spring – a resilient plant may surprise you.
Using salt to prevent icy roads and walkways is a big part of staying safe in the winter. However, all that salt isn’t great for your gardens. If you can help it, avoid shoveling salt snow on top of any shrubs or garden beds once you start clearing your driveway. If it can’t be helped, adding gypsum to the soil can help alleviate salt damage, mitigating any salt burns to the root systems below.
Overall, as long as you spend a little extra TLC after extreme snowstorms, snow is a boon for gardens in the winter. Freeze-thaw cycles are more likely to kill plants than snow is, so we certainly prefer a good blanket of snow. If you’re worried about late frosts or late snow after you’ve noticed a few plants budding too early, the best thing to do is insulate them as best as you can with light burlap, mulch, and light coverings.
When it snows, know that plants below the snow are just as cozy as we are, patiently waiting for spring too.