Winter Protection

In Cold Climates, Snow Is the Best Winter Protection!

Snow-covered garden with a bench in the foreground

Snow: it’s not your enemy, it’s your friend! Photo: wordpress.michelcharleboisrehmat.com

While snow is often seen as a disaster by novice gardeners, laidback gardeners (at least those in cold climates) look upon it as a benediction.

Snow creates a layer of insulation against the extremely cold air that winter will inevitably send us, covering and protecting the crowns and roots of our plants. The average snow cover in a region is also one of the main factors, along with minimum temperatures, that governments use in establishing hardiness zones. I already live in USDA zone 3 (AgCan zone 4), right on the edge of the great boreal forest. I shudder to think what zone I’d be in if the snow cover here weren’t so trustworthy!

A good cover of snow is so important in protecting our plants that experienced gardeners can guess ahead of time what shape their gardens will be in come spring by the abundance or lack of snow. When there is a lot of snow, their plants may be a bit slower to come up, but when they do, they’ll be in fine shape. If snow is absent when temperatures get really cold, they shake their head in despair: they know plenty of plants will have suffered and some may well be killed. The gardener who lives in an area where winters are cold, but snow cover is unreliable, really needs to learn how to mulch—and to mulch thickly!—before winter arrives. A good mulch may not totally replace snow, but it sure helps!

Bent branches usually just spring right back up when the snow melts. Photo: cascadeconifers.com

True enough, snow sometimes bends a few branches (which usually spring right back up when it melts) and snaps a few right off. I just figure that’s Mother Nature doing her pruning.

Branches that break are generally weak, sick or even dead. And young saplings that are flattened are usually the runts of the litter. Both the natural forest and your own garden are better off when Ma Nature removes the weaklings!

So long live snow! Long live winter! Long live gardeners who learn to embrace Mother Nature rather than trying to fight her!

Article adapted from one originally published in this blog on December 17, 2015

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

5 comments on “In Cold Climates, Snow Is the Best Winter Protection!

  1. If only it didn’t have to be moved off the hard surfaces. 🙂

  2. Fortunately, we need not be concerned with snow here. Nor must we worry about hard frost. We get mild frost, but it only kills plants that we should not be growing anyway. Minor snow at higher elevations bit farther inland is a serious problem for redwoods, which can not support the weight. Redwoods do not live at very high elevations, but venture high enough to, on rare occasion, encounter snow. Because it is so rare, they do not adapt to it. The damage is harmless to the trees, but very messy and very dangerous. Even small limbs falling from hundreds of feet up come down with major momentum!

  3. I live in Labrador and if it wasn’t for snow I’m not sure if anything would overwinter. As it is, I can grow things rated zone 3 even though AgCan thinks I’m zone 0. It’s a pain in the ass to shovel, but I love snow.

  4. Snow’s my friend too. I can’t imagine gardening without it!

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