Well, there is no denying that January is a time of Arctic blasts that send shivers down our spines and wreak havoc in the winter garden beds. For those who have attempted a winter garden this year (or would like to in the future), there is a lot to be said for having chosen the right plants for the season and making the appropriate low-impact garden systems (cold frames are amazing!)
But, the question of what to do about the snow may still remain.
Snow provides a unique challenge in gardens. Not only can the weight of it seriously damage plants — even cold-hardy ones — that are struggling to survive in the elements, but also — perhaps more significantly — the ability of snow to block out the sun poses a real problem.
Yet, whatever challenges snow may come with, it also comes with qualities that can be very useful in the garden, especially during the winter and early spring, and that’s not something we often hear about.
Snow’s Magical Properties
Snow has two characteristics that are particularly useful in gardens, and even more so in gardens that are battling elements of frigidness: it is insulating and reflective. Piles of snow around something actually have the ability to protect it from the cold winds whipping around it. And, snow’s reflective power with regards to the sun is so renown that skiers often wear sunscreen or get sunburned. Of course, in the winter garden, insulation and sunlight are great assets.
Using Snow as Insulation
Most likely, gardeners who are having to battle snow are those who have used cold frames to grow vegetables in the winter. This means that the cold frames have been instrumental in protecting the plants from the weight of snow, but the glass lids have likely also caught snow, which is blocking the sun from reaching the plants.
During the really cold times, all of this snow is actually useful because it encapsulates the heat within the cold frames. Once the temperatures level off into typical frostiness, clear the snow off the top of the cold frames and pile it to the northern, eastern, and western sides of the frame. This will help to prevent gusts of cold wind from penetrating the cold frame.
In truth, winter wind is every bit the enemy that winter temperatures are, so being able to use the snow to block those winds is hugely useful in warming up the garden. In essence, piling the snow around the beds (except for the southern side) creates a sun pocket to capture warmth. That’s using snow wisely in the garden.
Recognizing the Power of Reflection
Not so surprisingly, creating a sun pocket with snow also enhances the amount of sun that reaches the plants sheltered within it. Since the sun is coming from the south (assuming we are in the Northern Hemisphere here), when the snowbanks actually get higher than the edges of the cold frames, those bright white walls are reflecting sunshine into the garden beds.
These reflections help the winter garden in two ways. It supplies the plants with the sunshine that they need, and the sun’s radiation will heat up the area inside the box. So, not only will the beds be protected from the cold north winds, they’ll also be harvesting the warm southern sun rays.
Living With Nature
In the springtime, before it is melted, the same type of sun pocket can be constructed around cold-hardy veggie patches. As the weather warms, gradually melting the sun, the snowmelt will water the plants, creating yet another welcomed attribute.
For some places, keeping up with the snow in winter might be a daily task in which the lids of the cold frames are constantly cleared and piled at the sides. It’s got to be a tiny labor of love that produces fresh greens in winter. For others, snow may be a rarity. (If snow isn’t common in your region, try making a sun pocket with earth banks or composting leaves to get a similar effect.)
This is the magic of working with Mother Nature rather than against her. Somehow it seems, with the right mindset, we can always get what we need. The point is that snow doesn’t necessarily have to be a gardener’s enemy. It can actually serve a valuable purpose.
Lead Image Source: Pixabay