Snow, the Gardener’s Friend

Larry Hodgson has published thousands of articles and 65 books over the course of his career, in both French and English. His son, Mathieu, has made it his mission to make his father’s writings available to the public. This text was originally published in the newspaper Le soleil, March 18, 2000.

You were hoping that winter was over, weren’t you? After a long break in winter temperatures and the melting of a good half of the snow cover, most seemed convinced that winter was over. In fact, I had snowdrops in full bloom in a protected bed last week. But even the flowers were surprised when the snow returned. But, as a gardener, how should you react?

First of All, Don’t Panic

I once heard a story about a woman who spent a night sitting next to her tulips with a hair dryer to keep them warm because she was afraid of one last winter spasm. But perhaps she now knows that this was an unnecessary precaution.

Indeed, the nature of the “early-waking” plants makes them able to support the jerks of our climate. Bulbs that come out of the ground early (daffodils, crocuses, tulips, etc.) will simply stop growing, but temporarily, waiting patiently for warmer weather to return.

Even my snowdrops in full bloom will not be affected. I have every confidence that they will be fine under the snow and when it melts, they will continue to bloom.

Photo: Couleur sur Pixnio.

A Good Thing

In fact, the return of cooler temperatures and snow is a good thing for plants. A total snow melt in early March could have been disastrous for many plants, especially fruit trees which, unlike bulbs, can be seriously damaged by frost once they start to bloom. Moreover, maple syrup producers are very happy with the turn of events: a spring that is too early and especially too hot is not good for maples either.

We mustn’t forget that, if snow is cold for us, it’s quite different for plants. Snow is like insulation: it protects plants from very low air temperatures.

Indeed, under a carpet of snow, the temperature rarely drops below 20°F (-5°C). If there is no more snow and the temperature reaches, say, -10°F (-23 °C), then the plants will face truly winter conditions. Ideally, the snow should melt slowly and not disappear completely until mid-April, when the risk of really cold temperatures is over.

Photo: Stuart.

The Best Thing to Do Is… Nothing at All!

When winter suddenly returns, the best thing to do is… do nothing. Let nature take its course: it knows what it is doing. Don’t try to clear the plants of snow, you risk damaging them. And, even though I’ve said it many times before, I’ll say it again: shoveling snow off the lawn is not good for your lawn. The best lawns are the ones that stay under the snow the longest!

Photo: F. D. Richards

Watch Out for Your Conifers

The only recommended action is for conifers and trees with branch tips caught in icy snow. When the snow melts, it often does so from underneath, dragging the branches still trapped in the ice downward and possibly breaking them.

But don’t try to shovel them out: you’ll do more damage than the ice! Simply walk on the snow around the branches to break the crust that has formed. This will free them from the weight of the snow and allow them to gradually regain their position when the snow finally melts.

For the gardener, snow is not an enemy, but a friend.

Garden writer and blogger, author of 65 gardening books, lecturer and communicator, the Laidback Gardener, Larry Hodgson, passed away in October 2022. Known for his great generosity, his thoroughness and his sense of humor, he reached several generations of amateur and professional gardeners over his 40-year career. Thanks to his son, Mathieu Hodgson, and a team of contributors, will continue its mission of demystifying gardening and making it more accessible to all.

3 comments on “Snow, the Gardener’s Friend

  1. Snow is bad for us because the trees, particularly redwoods, are not accustomed to it. The weight can break limbs, which are dangerous as they fall from hundreds of feet up. Fortunately, it is very rare. Prior to this winter, most regions near here have not experienced snow since 1976. Frost is mild here, so protection from it is not as important as it is in other climates.

  2. We’re having a very snowy and extended spring this year in southern Ontario (by comparison to the past couple of years with early warmth and early last frosts). The blanket of snow is annoying in other respects but wonderful as a gardener—I don’t have to worry one whit if overnight temperatures dip below -10C, because I know the garden is insulated. Great article!

  3. organicgardeningcorner

    Great Article! I never really thought about the snow as a blanket to help keep everything warm until temperatures increase.

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