By Connie Kotke
Nothing beats the beauty of a snow-covered garden. Falling or drifting snow creates interesting sculptures on our benches, arbors and paths. Evergreens look brighter, and trees with ornamental bark are showing off against a white background. Crowns of sparkling white form on sedum, ornamental grasses and other perennials we left standing in the garden. Snow is useful to gardeners in other ways, too.
Making the Most of a Snowy Winter
When everything is covered in snow, the landscape is peaceful and still. The snow sparkles, and everything seems clean and pure. Yes, it’s cold! But aside from moving to a warmer climate, we can take advantage of the many benefits snow delivers to Minnesota gardeners.
Most importantly, snow cover insulates your valuable plants from wind and sub-zero temperatures. Most winter damage to plants occurs when we don’t have sufficient snow cover. This is especially important for roots, which do not become dormant in the winter as quickly as stems, branches and buds. A good snow cover moderates the temperature of the soil. That’s good, because the roots of most trees and shrubs in Minnesota die at temperatures below 10 degrees. If you planted some new trees, shrubs and perennials this fall, you’ll want to wish for a deeper snow cover to protect those newly-formed roots.
Snow also protects plants from the freeze/thaw cycles that heave them out of the ground. This happens because of the way snowflakes are shaped. There are small spaces in each one that are filled with air. As they pile up, the result is low heat conductivity so the daily temperature permeation into the snow is reduced and the plants are protected from really cold temperatures.
Snow helps preserve moisture in the soil during winter and provides water to the soil as it melts in the spring. This slowly waters the emerging perennials.
Here are some other ways to use the snow:
- Insulate your garden planters. If you overwinter any potted plants outdoors, shovel or blow snow onto the planters to protect the roots. Snow acts as a natural barrier to shield the ground beneath it from the really cold wind gusts. When it warms up, the snow will melt and act like a slow-release drip irrigation system.
- Collect snow in rain barrels. As it melts, use it to water spring ephemerals, moisten compost, and incorporate leaf mulch into the soil. It’s free, it’s clean (no chlorine or other chemicals added to our city water), and delivered free to your door. Some people call snow “the poor man’s fertilizer.” As it falls through the atmosphere, nitrogen and sulfur attach to the flakes. When the snow melts, these elements are released into the soil and absorbed by plants. Nitrogen is essential to plant growth.
- With everything covered in snow, your birdfeeders will lure more birds and other critters closer to your home. It’s easier to see them, too, with a heavy blanket of white in the background.
For more information, check out this University of Minnesota resource:Protecting Trees and Shrubs in Winter – Protecting trees and shrubs in winter | UMN Extension