Snow and the Garden

“Think snow!” the skiers say. That’s something gardeners should say as well.

When most people see snow the first thing they think of is how to get it off of the sidewalk and driveway.  For me and many other gardeners, shoveling snow is the second thing we think of. The first thought is how thankful we are that mother nature has provided a blanket to protect our plants from the harsh extremes of winter.

I'm sure your driveway looks much like mine.

Many folks don’t realize that snow is a good thing.  I’ve had people say to me that they hated to see the snow because it would damage their plants by freezing them.  The only way snow can damage a plant is by breaking branches due to excessive amounts accumulating on trees and shrubs.

Snow acts as a natural blanket that keeps the soil from freezing too deeply or thawing too quickly during winter time warm-ups. The alternating freezing and thawing of soil can wreak havoc on plant roots by heaving them.  The roots are actually pushed up through the soil causing much damage. Mulching around plants can reduce this effect but there is nothing like a good snow cover like the one we have this winter.

Farmers who grow winter wheat love snow because it protects their fields in the winter.  Winter wheat is planted in the fall and left to overwinter. Wheat plants that are exposed to winter winds can dry out.  If it gets bad enough the plants will die. With snow on the ground wheat can survive most anything old man winter can throw at it.

In years gone by snow was called “the poor man’s fertilizer” and indeed it does have some fertilizing value. Back in the 1920’s a study was done to measure the fertilizing value of precipitation.  Over a period of ten years  snow and rainfall in the area of study averaged around 33 inches of equivalent water per year, which is close to what we get around here. The scientists found that this precipitation provided over 6500 lbs. of nitrogen (a critical plant nutrient) per acre annually. That’s a lot of fertilizer.

What about all of that snow in the driveway? Fortunately I did get my snow thrower fixed this year after two years of sitting in storage.  It’s all in the timing. 🙂

Bob

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