View from the Garden: Snowed In? Could Be Good for Plants

Garden patio in the snow

When the snow stopped, I put on tall boots and tramped my way to the small pond in the side yard. There is a pump going in it all winter to keep an open hole in any ice that may form. Without an opening, gasses become trapped under the ice and the fish sleeping in the bottom may die. The pond and its surroundings were covered with a deep layer of snow. The snow was sitting on a net I had stretched over the pond in the fall to keep leaves out. The net kept the snow above the water about 3 inches, and the water was moving as freely as it does in the summer.

Naturally fallen snow or blown snow is a great insulator. Because air is trapped between the flakes, it acts like mulch, protecting the ground and plants from cold winds and colder air. When leaves and dead stalks from the summer are left, they create mulch. Snow on top of that makes an even deeper layer of mulch, keeping plants snug even in intense cold.

When fall temperatures signal trees and shrubs to drop their leaves and perennials to die back, their roots still need water. Long lasting spells of frozen ground can cause roots to dehydrate and die, weakening or killing the plant. Hence, the advantage of mulch that traps air. I dug under the snow and the leaves in my beds to find the soil cold but loose. Deep snow on foundation plants may even protect them from snow falling from the roof as melting begins.

When snow settles on branches of trees and shrubs and causes them to bend more than usual, we may be tempted to remove it. Most of the time this is not necessary, as any sun will begin to melt it and branches may actually be harmed with the removal attempt. Any removal that is done, however, should be done when the snow is loose and then by gently shaking the branch, perhaps tapping with a broom, beginning at the tip of the branch. Trees and shrubs that open severely from snow need to be prepared for winter in the fall by tying or burlaping. You may need an arborist for this task.

When the snow melts it, of course, provides water for roots. If the ground is protected with air-filled mulch, the water will be able to soak into the earth easily.

There is snow that is not good for plants. When snow is piled on plants from plowing or shoveling, it loses its air and thus does not function as mulch. If these snow piles remain on plants for too long it can damage or even kill them. Be careful of branches if removing piles of snow from shrubs. Perhaps new locations should be found for shrubs regularly piled on by the snow plows. Be sure to use plant (and animal) friendly chemicals and materials on walkways. Salt run-off soaks into soil and is defiantly not good for plants.

We feed birds all year and our pond provides water for them. I filled both feeders before the storm and needed to fill them the day after. I think we are the neighborhood food center, as there are many birds of several varieties all winter. It is glorious to see cardinals sitting on the evergreens and their colors seem more intense in winter. I also put out cob corn for squirrels in the winter.

I bought two big pumpkins in October for jack-o-lanterns. We just did not get around to carving them this year and I sat them “decoratively” in the house. This week I noticed that they were not in good shape at all. I split them open and put them under the bird feeders. The birds love them. They are eating the flesh as well as the seeds.

While the plants in my garden hibernate under their mulch of leaves and snow, plant and seed catalogues arrive daily. I don’t mind the short cold days in winter, they remind me that spring is around the corner.

Jeanelle Myers is a professional gardener, landscaper and consultant. For gardening discussion you can call her at 631-434-5067.

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