The obvious benefit of snow cover is that it’s an excellent insulator. Without it, cold temperatures can freeze the ground deeply, which damages the root systems of shrubs and trees. Without insulation the water contained in plant cells can freeze, damaging the cell walls. Plants can turn black or look translucent. Snow cover also protects plants from harsh, drying winter winds. It’s an excellent insulator for plants in containers, too.
It 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.
The process of freezing and thawing has been said to improve soil structure. This lighter soil makes it easier for plants to root causing increased productivity.
In Taylor’s Encyclopedia of Gardening, snow is called “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.
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.
Roses are said to flower better after a hard winter, and apples and pears set more fruit.
If it snows before the ground freezes too hard, it's easier to dig root crops such as carrots and leeks. If the snow keeps the soil from freezing, roots will continue to grow and earthworms and bacteria in the soil continue to turn garden debris into beneficial compost.
Certain plants actually need a cool period before growing and a blanket of snow will cool bulbs like daffodils and crocuses, delaying their blooms.
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 the snow covering everything.
Snow offers a break from gardening chores. It’s time to cover up with a warm blanket, grab a cup of hot chocolate and some good plant catalogs, and start planning for spring.
The weight of heavy snow on branches can split or break them and can cause plants to fall and/or be uprooted. Weak branches can be torn from trees and do damage when they fall. Thawing and refreezing can cause buildup of ice on plants and trees that can cause damage too.
Winter is particularly hard on evergreens, especially the broadleaf kinds. They already have a difficult time drawing water from frozen soil, but when the sunlight is reflected off snow, even more moisture is drawn from the leaves.
A late snow can be hard on plants that flower early, although most of them are pretty tough and will come through the snow event just fine.
Snow provides cover from predators for destructive animals like voles. Voles tunnel under the snow making trails in the lawn, chewing on bark and destroying stems of plants. Mice are also busy under the cover of snow nibbling where they shouldn’t be. Rabbits and deer are more likely to feed on garden plants and young trees and shrubs in the winter. And if the snow is quite deep they’re able to reach young stems that are now several feet above normal ground level.
And if you live in an area that doesn't normally get snow and cold temperatures, snow can be quite devastating to your plants.
You can’t deny the beauty of a snow covered garden. Structures like benches, arbors and paths are highlighted. Evergreens look brighter and trees with ornamental bark are shown off with the white background. Seed heads and ornamental grasses wear crowns of white.
The Japanese have revered snow for a long time and consider it an important part of their garden display. They use special snow viewing lanterns called yukimi placed around the gardens for gardens tours. They call snowflakes that adorn tree branches sekka, or snow blossoms.
When everything is covered in snow, the landscape is peaceful and still. The snow sparkles and all is white and pure. It’s magical to stand outside with the big, fluffy flakes falling around you.
Other than moving to a warmer climate there isn’t anything we can do about the snow. So take some time to enjoy the changes in seasons and learn to appreciate all the benefits that snow can provide.
Some photos courtesy of threegardeners and valleylynn.