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Suprising benefits of snow in the garden

My tiny hoop greenhouse in the snow
My tiny hoop greenhouse in the snow
G. Shaun Jackson

During periods of extended snow cover, it seems as if the time to garden will never arrive. As we patiently wait and plan for spring, I often wonder if it will ever come. But, as always the temperature warms and everything starts to green. In the meantime, are there any garden benefits from nearly continuous snow cover? The simple answer is, you bet!

Insulation. Yes, believe it or not, snow is one of nature’s best insulators. The physical structure of snowflakes has lots of air pockets much like insulation in your home. This layer of protection helps prevent the soil from freezing deeply and can prevent cold damage to roots.

Conservation of moisture. When the garden is covered with snow the soil cannot lose moisture through evaporation. Also, when the snow melts, moisture is slowly released and will soak into the ground. Slow water infiltration is better because the soil particles are more thoroughly saturated.

Nitrogen addition. Snow actually picks up nitrogen from the atmosphere and carries it to the ground. As the snow melts, the nitrogen is released and plants can utilize it. Thus snow has been referred to as poor man’s fertilizer.

Provides cold cycles. Some plants such as bulbs require a period of cold to thrive and some seeds require it in order to germinate, a process known as stratification. Cold weather and snow provide this for us and actually helps some plants.

Soil heaving. When there is a hard freeze, the ice in the soil expands causing it to heave up. This can be a bad thing, especially when plant roots are heaved up and exposed. Heaving can also be a positive. When the soil heaves and cracks aeration and drainage can improve and improve plant growth later.

While there are some obvious drawbacks for gardeners in the winter, there are also benefits. Always look for the positives!

Good luck and good gardening!

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