Snow..any benefits?

Snow, love or hate it, it’s a reality for gardens zone 6 and lower. I’m in zone 5, and gardeners are almost guaranteed snow every winter. And it is a good thing (to quote Martha Stewart). Here’s my take on it…


Benefits for the gardener

Looks very pretty (yup…it does help the gardener!). Snow highlights and emphasizes ornamental bark, evergreens and grass plumes.


Winter strips the deciduous shrubs and trees bare

Branches of trees and shrubs that need pruning will be very obvious. Mark them with bright wool, so you can easily identify and prune the offending branches in slightly warmer weather.


Snow covers up the ground: a perfect canvas to play!

Examine the bones of your landscape. Are your trees and shrubs in the right place?

Experiment with new shapes of flower beds. Snow is like a whiteboard.


Winter allows you to catch up on your garden reading, order from catalogues and plan your garden.


Winter and snow gives gardeners time. Time to evaluate the garden (i.e. design, plants, function etc…)


Benefits for the garden

Snow insulates the soil

Snow insulation:

Protects perennials, bulbs, ground covers from alternating freeze and thaw.

Protects plants against low temperatures and battering winds.

Reduces temperature fluctuations.


The degree to which the snow insulates depends on the snow depth. Generally, for every inch of snow (2.54 cm), temperatures increase about 2 degrees Fahrenheit (1.1 C). And since soil gives off heat too, the soil surface under the snow can be much warmer than air temperature.

For example a study showed:

Air temperature:                         -14 degrees Fahrenheit (-25.5 C)

Snow depth:                               9 inches (23 cm)

Surface temperature of soil:       28 degrees Fahrenheit (-2 C)

University of Delaware Agriculture Extension


Snow prevents desiccation

Snow provides moisture to many landscape plants and prevents plants from drying out during the cold months.

How much water does an inch of snow provide? It depends on the temperature. Temperature affects snowflakes, forming the wet slushy snow at freezing temperatures to the light fluffy snow at 14 F (-10 C).

Above freezing mark (32 F or 0 C):      5 inches of snow = 1 inch of rain

At or below freezing mark:                   10 inches of snow = 1 inch of rain

At 22 F (-5.5 C):                                   15 inches of snow = 1 inch of rain

University of Delaware Agriculture Extension


Uncover warm microclimates

Early melting snow in spring usually indicates a warmer microclimate in your garden safe from a late spring frost. That’s the right spot for tender plants and frost-sensitive seedlings and transplants.


Keeping it real

As we all know, a controlled fire provides warmth and light, but an uncontrolled fire destroys indiscriminately. Like fire, water has a dark side. Unlike the light weight snow during the winter which insulates soil and protects plants, the wet heavy snow in spring (usually) can damage gardens.

Unseasonable heavy, wet snowfalls can flatten and damage annuals and emerging perennials. Wait a couple days after the heavy snowstorm when the snow has melted before inspecting the damage. Cut injured stems and remove dead plants.

Trees and shrubs suffer under the weight of a heavy snow. Shake their branches gently to remove excess snow several times during the course of the storm.

Shear hedges to an arched peak rather than a flat top. Heavy accumulation of snow on flat sheared hedges causes branches to split or collapse under the weight.

Written by Cristina da Silva
Tuesday, February 1, 2011 in Building Soil, Plants & Soils

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