I can hardly wait to get into my garden when it's snowing, or after the first snow. The landscape I thought I knew so well becomes brand new, and I'm reminded how snow contributes to my garden's health in surprising ways.
According to Taylor’s Encyclopedia of Gardening, snow is called “the poor man's fertilizer.”
As it falls, a small amount of atmospheric nitrogen and sulfur are attached to snowflake and sleet particles.
When snow melts, it releases nitrogen, which is essential for plant growth.
Snow is also a good soil insulator because of the way snowflakes are shaped.
My brother once sent me a microscopic photo showing there are small spaces in each snowflake that are filled with air.
As snowflakes pile up, they don't conduct heat, which protects plants from fluctuating, and sometimes damaging, temperatures.
Without snow, very cold temperatures freeze soil deeper, leading to tree and shrub root damage.
Some spring bulbs, such as daffodils, crocus and tulips, need a period of steady cold temperature before they bloom.
A layer of snow helps them maintain that steady, colder temperature and also keeps them from popping up before temperatures become steadily warmer.
After preserving soil moisture through winter, spring melting snow slowly waters emerging plants, giving them that nitrogen boost to get started.
If you have not yet mulched perennial beds, 1-2 inch deep snow is enough.
If there is no snow on your garden beds, put the cut Christmas tree to good use. Remove branches and place them on the flower beds right over the snow.
If you have to use ice melt, read the packaging closely and follow directions. These products can damage plants so use the least amount possible to get the job done.
Rock salt will be effective down to 15F. Calcium chloride will be effective down to 5F. There’s no product that will work below 5F unless you apply it very, very heavily. It would be better to wait for temperatures to warm up or better yet, put that snow shovel to good use.
If safety is an issue, a good, safe alternative is cracked corn, which will help melt ice and also be a treat for wildlife. Just don't spread it thickly down a driveway or you may need to wait for wildlife to finish dinner before you can drive into your garage!
Charlotte Ekker Wiggins shares her gardening tips at http://www.gardeningcharlotte.com.