The latest thinking on ecological landscapes. Useful tips to improve our environment

Kim Eierman

Kim Eierman

Founder of EcoBeneficial!

Available for virtual and in-person landscape consulting, talks and classes.

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Benefits of a Blanket of Snow in Your Garden

Love it or hate it, snowfall in winter is a reality for most of the country.  EcoBeneficial is in the “love it” category.  Here’s why:

Snow as Insulator

Snow is not only beautiful, but a blanket of snow acts as just that – a natural blanket of insulation for your garden soil.  As with home insulation, the R value is determined by the depth of the snow.  New, un-compacted snow provides especially good insulation. A scanty snowfall of an inch or two doesn’t do much, but a freshly-fallen deep, fluffy snowfall is ideal for plant protection. In some cases, the temperature of soil under snow pack can be double that of the ambient temperature.

Snow as Nature’s Mulch

Snow acts as nature’s mulch and helps to moderate temperature changes underground. Without the insulation that snow provides, the winter freeze and thaw cycles can wreak havoc on plant roots and bulbs. When those odd warm days occur in the middle of winter you may cheer, but when another freeze follows, your plants can suffer without the benefit of snow cover. You may have seen the effects of frost heave, when plants can be literally uprooted when significant temperature changes occur.

Snow as Climate Change Moderator

Snow cover discourages perennials and bulbs from growing when a warm day occurs in winter, only to have their new growth zapped by the next cold spell. A blanket of snow can be especially valuable winter protection for your costly trees and shrubs. On unusually warm days in winter, woody plants can sense the warmer air temperature within their canopy and try to get moisture from the soil. If the soil is frozen, with no insulation from snow, these plants can be severely damaged. With climate change expect to see more erratic temperatures in winter that can “trick” plants’ timing. Bring on the snow!

Snow as Water & Nitrogen Source

Snow cover has even more benefits. Like organic mulch, a blanket of snow helps to preserve soil moisture in winter. As the snow melts, typically in spring, it then delivers even more moisture to plants. Snow is also known as “poor man’s fertilizer.” As snow falls through the atmosphere, nitrogen attaches to the snowflakes, providing a gentle natural fertilizer boost to plants.

Snow as Seed Propagator

Snow can provide the natural moist cooling period that many of our native seeds require in order to germinate. This propagation condition is known as stratification.  In the fall, try sowing native seeds with a stratification requirement, such as goldenrods and blazing stars. Let Mother Nature, and her snow pack, do the work of stratification for you. As snow falls it will also help the seeds make better contact with the soil.

Don’t Fight Mother Nature

One winter I witnessed a neighbor shoveling all of the snow off his yard. When he finished it was a very odd sight – his yard was the only one in the neighborhood without snow! Little did he know that all of his work was counterproductive and actually damaging to his plants. For those of you lucky enough to get winter snow – shovel the driveway – not the yard!

Enjoy the beauty and benefits of snow this winter!  From Kim Eierman at EcoBeneficial!


Photo credit – OneFatMan/Flickr

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