Although winter is usually remembered for its punitive conditions, it can also be a period of immense beauty.
While people’s opinions may vary greatly on how truly desirable snow is – in particular, the recent days when the newspapers and TV newscasts were full of stories of stranded travelers and unplowed streets – snow actually has many benefits.
Snow can be good for your garden
One of the greatest benefits of a good snow cover, as it pertains to your garden, is the fact that snow functions as an excellent insulator of the soil.
Throughout the winter months, snow cover protects soils and vegetation from low temperatures and harsh winds. Without that, soil would freeze deeper and deeper with the accompanying cold temperatures, leading, no doubt, to the damage of root systems of trees and shrubs.
In addition, the alternating cycles of freezing and thawing would have a negative effect on perennials, bulbs, and ground covers. Without a blanket of snow, these would suffer crown damage from soil heaving, which could injure roots and/or dry out plants.
Additionally, snow cover helps to conserve soil moisture during the long winter months.
Snow highlights the bare bones architectural structure (paths, arbors, statuary, benches, and ponds) of your garden without the distraction of colorful blossoms or the various textures of plants.
The drawbacks of snow in the landscape
Now, you might argue that there are some drawbacks to snow in the garden. And I would have to agree.
Heavy, wet snow can damage conifers and weak-wooded trees as the weight of the snow accumulates on branches.
Tree branches with narrow crotch angles or dead or decaying branches are certainly more vulnerable to splitting during a snow storm.
In your landscape, snow can act as a physical barrier restraining herbivores, such as rabbits, from reaching the vegetation.
But, on the other hand, it also creates a protective environment that allows warm-blooded animals like voles to be active below the snow while it protects them from predators. These furry pests may end up destroying woody plants by gnawing on tender bark at the base of young tree trunks and shrubs.
Snow cover could also entice rabbits to feed on tender bark if there is no easy access to other plant material for them to eat.
But stop and think about it. There are far more positives than negatives.
Evergreen trees look much greener against the alabaster backdrop, and trees and shrubs with ornamental bark, such as red twig dogwoods or river birches, look positively brilliant.
And ornamental grasses left standing from last season take on new life in the snow.
The unmatched beauty of snow
But most important, a fluffy layer of snow brings an immense beauty to the winter landscape, turning it into an enchanting winter wonderland. All of nature is transformed, light is altered, and a stillness that’s unknown the rest of the year settles in.
For me, there’s something magical about the big, flaky, soft kind of freshly fallen snow. I stop to take in the beauty of the pristine landscape, and try hard to capture the fairytale scenery with my camera.
Some of this artistry can be seen and touched, some can only be felt, and no matter how hard I try, the pictures never ever capture any of that allure the same way I see it or feel it.
Walking out into the yard, I stop and listen to the silence. It’s quiet and serene – peaceful and in a strange way, absolutely perfect.
There is a sort of mystical peace in the snowflakes as they fall. I love the way the morning sun glistens off the snow cover as if someone had sprinkled diamonds over the area.
Just listen! Listen to the sound snow makes as it packs under your boots or the low, velvety swish of car tires on unplowed streets.
So savor the moment! To my mind, snow cover makes a winter garden – complete.
Betty Earl, the Intrepid Gardener, is one of eight well-known garden writers who blog regularly at Diggin' It. She's the author of “In Search of Great Plants: The Insider’s Guide to the Best Plants in the Midwest.” She also writes a regular column for Chicagoland Gardening Magazine and The Kankakee Journal and numerous articles for Small Gardens Magazine, American Nurseryman, Nature’s Garden, and Midwest Living Magazine, as well as other national magazines. She is a garden scout for Better Homes and Gardens and a regional representative for The Garden Conservancy. To read more by Betty, click here.