Happy New Year Garden lovers! There is something about the start of a new year that brings hope and enthusiasm for the coming garden season! And what a start to 2014 here in the North Country: lots of snow and record breaking sub zero temperatures. Yes my outdoor thermometer
read 16 below at one point…and that is under outdoor deck cover! And while I was out shoveling the huge amounts of snow, I heard my gardens whispering to me…thank you snow!
What a garden grateful for snow? Actually here in the North Country, snow cover is a welcome winter event for gardens. Snow cover provides insulation from the drying winter sun and the extreme air temperatures! And especially after our late season warmth this past autumn. With the lingering warm temperatures many of our plants needed a clear signal to go dormant and may not have responded fully before the thermometer dropped. The dormancy mechanism allows nutrients to move out of the leaves to stem buds, trunk and roots to store. So snow cover is a welcome moderator for those slower to transition this fall and help protect above ground parts for winter survival. Remember our winter of 2013? Very little snow but weeks of extreme cold and winds. I lost many well established knockout roses to the lack of snow cover last season. Evergreens were also hard hit, greatly compromised or lost altogether.
Like a down quilt, snow can provide insulation by trapping air and keeping it from freezing. Snow is considered to have an insulation:R-value of 1…so say 12 inches of snow equals an R-value of 12! Hard to believe but true. A Rutgers University Study found a 42degree difference between air temperature at -14 and ground temperature under 9 inches of snow. The ground temperature logged in at 28 degrees. That’s amazing! So lets see, I had 24 inches of snow covering my perennials gardens…outdoor air temperature was -16…so no wonder I heard my gardens whisper, Thank you snow!
Not only is snow cover an insulator…it is a great slow drip watering for the gardens. Evergreens especially need water during the hard winter months. Sun, wind and frigid temps increase the transpiration rate of the evergreen leaves. Snow can provide much needed water to combat this phenomenon. Unlike rain run off, snow slowly melts, then slowly soaks into the ground. So that combined with your commitment to mulching during the growing season can help plants survive the winter.
Although I have been using shrubs and trees in this dialog, perennials can also benefit from snow cover. Most can survive without snow cover, but they do better if protected, especially shallow rooted varieties. The cover and moist ground can discourage freeze-thaw phenomena that would push roots to the surface and cause damage. I noticed a good deal of compromise in the production of my re-blooming daylilies in certain gardens last year due to this.
So while I complain about removing snow to get around here in the North Country over the winter (and really why should I? It is good outdoor exercise in the winter ), my gardens are grateful for every inch of snow fall!