Most of us wake up to three feet of snow and feel overwhelmed by the daunting task of shoveling and piling up all the white stuff just to get to work or school. We also anticipate many weeks of boredom ahead as the cold wind blows across the icy snow. But while we are curled up on the couch reading thrillers or gardening catalogs, and listening to the weatherman forecasting more snow, the gardeners among us are breaking out in secret smiles.
What few people know is that a heavy snowfall acts as a geothermal blanket for your garden and landscape plants. Call it the “igloo effect”. The desiccating winds of winter, in combination with sub-freezing temperatures, are lethal to garden plants, as well as many herbaceous woodland plants. Only when wrapped in a heavy blanket of snow and, even better, topped off with a thin duvet cover of ice, do your precious perennial plants and low lying shrubs sleep the beauty sleep—well protected from the forces of Old Man Winter.
Think of the vibrant lushness of spring grasses in northern New England and across New York to northern Michigan and Minnesota: the long, rich green blades are unique to the northern latitudes, but also to the lands blessed by a long and heavy mantle of snow. Not only does the winter blanket conserve the earth’s heat, but also it disperses the intense winter sunlight evenly across the subsurface, saturating the tops of the plants with gentle and even light. Those of us down here near the Mason-Dixon line and across the central plains to Missouri and Kansas—we don’t have the heavy snow cover, so the sudden cold snaps and the high winds “prune” our herbaceous perennials and grasses down to the quick, if not below the soil. Thus, except deep in the ravines, our springs are not anywhere near as verdant as those of our northern neighbors. Compared to our neighbors to the south, for whom winter is a wet and clammy death, the snowbound folks from Maine to Connecticut and across Wisconsin, should be very happy indeed.
So, blessed be the winter snows.