Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Let It Snow (In My Garden)!
Lavender sustaining itself through last year's snow.
It is still snowing a bit here, just a few scattered flurries to top of the inches already on the ground, and that's just fine by me. For the cold climate garden, snow really does have its benefits. We'll ignore the horror of collapsed greenhouses or blacked out cold frames for now, mainly because I don't have either (heh!), and concentrate on the good points. 'Kay?
As I see it, snow has two wonderful upsides. The first of these is its insulating properties. Snow isn't just a poetic, metaphorical blanket. It really does provide protection to the soil. While I do typically mulch my beds, snow is always welcome added insurance that the roots of my trees, shrubs, and other perennials will not freeze. Without snow, all that cold seeps right into the ground. Soil can freeze to amazing depths and cause plenty of damage to both flora and fauna, but just a couple of inches of snow cover is usually enough to prevent the most significant and damaging soil freezes. A couple inches of snow can also be especially beneficial to small compost piles, acting as an added layer to aid in the continuation of the thermal process happening within.
The second benefit to snow cover is the added moisture. This can be both a blessing and a curse, depending on just how much snow you get and the annual precipitation of your area overall. In my garden, it's best if the snowfall takes place in the earlier months of winter, specifically November, December, January, and early February. This provides more time for the inches and inches of moisture provided by the powdery white stuff to incorporate itself into the soil. Yes, we still have wet, mushy springtimes, but they generally don't last quite as long as they do when our snowfall happens after early February. This earlier moisture absorption allows me to work the soil just a bit earlier. When the snow comes in March and April, as it did last year, it can be as late as June before the soil is really workable. No fun at all.
In the compost pile, it's always important to control moisture. By the end of summer, my compost pile is usually getting pretty dry, so I'm eager for the snow to compensate later on. I deal with the possibility of a waterlogged pile by building all of mine with rounded tops, allowing the moisture the run down the sides. If topped off in the autumn with a "brown" layer (I prefer shredded paper), that will suck up the moisture that your pile needs. The rest of the melted snow will soak into the bottom layer of compost and the soil around it. If you don't build rounded piles, you'll need to ensure proper drainage in your setup so that the excess moisture from inches and inches of snow doesn't soak your pile.
Honestly, I can't imagine a winter without snow. Even if it wasn't beneficial to my garden, and that argument can certainly be made, there's just something magical and oh so gorgeous about it. For me, snow makes winter complete.