Snow has certainly been a dominant topic of conversation so far this month of January. It is beautiful to look at while you’re sipping your coffee but what effect is the snow having in the garden? Snow is, first, an excellent insulator for plants. Although it didn’t get as cold as first forecast temperatures were still several degrees colder than normal. The air trapped between snowflakes is the best insulation for plant roots, protecting them from severe cold and moderating the temperature fluctuations to prevent freezing and thawing.
Snow is obviously an excellent source of moisture once it melts. Piling snow around the base of evergreens, particularly those situated near the house and under roof overhangs, provides water to dry soil that plants will eagerly take up once the weather warms up. Snow also acts as a fertilizer as it contains nitrogen and sulfur, collected as it falls through the atmosphere.
Fortunately the snow we’ve received so far this month has been very light and dry, thanks to the Arctic air that moved down into the valley on January 12. This isn’t always the case. Last year we had a very heavy dump of wet snow on January 23. This snowfall did some damage to plants. Upright conifers can be bent over and even broken by the weight. It’s not a pleasant task but trudging out with a broom and knocking the snow off your cedar hedge will save their appearance come spring! Be careful where you pile snow from your driveway or sidewalks; plants with more delicate stems can be damaged by the added weight.
When the snow finally does melt watch where the soil or lawn emerges first and also where the snow tends to linger. This can help you determine the location of the ‘micro-climates’ in your landscape. Areas where snow stays longer might be prone to late spring frosts. Soil that stays wet for longer after snow melt could require some help with drainage; plants generally hate wet feet coming out of winter!
Who knows what the rest of the winter will bring? We may see even more snow, or it might be gone by the middle of February! Use the next several weeks to rest and refresh, to scheme and dream about this year’s garden. Our seed racks are always the best place for ideas and inspiration on a snowy winter day in Penticton.