The Beauty and Benefits of Snow in the Garden

What Are The Benefits of Snow?

Nov 19, 2018
Snowy Garden Gnomes

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We finally had our first snow of the season. Whatever you may think of snow (and snow removal!), remember the old saying, “A good winter with snow makes all the plants grow.” 

This new storm began way down south. Places in Texas and Louisiana that rarely see snow got several inches of the white stuff days before we saw our first flake here in New Hampshire.

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I had almost forgotten how pretty the snow can be, hanging in the trees, blanketing the ground, covering up all the outdoor projects left undone. The neighbors will never know you didn’t clean up those old squash vines. Under a covering of snow all gardens become equal.

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We had about 4 inches, enough to cover the frozen ground with a bit of needed insulation. I fear for the perennials when the temperatures drop suddenly before we have enough snow cover to protect the roots. Snow is mostly air surrounded by a little frozen water, and despite how cold it feels to the skin, it is an excellent insulator.

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Under that cozy comforter of white, the roots of your valuable plants are protected from the freeze-thaw cycle that can heave tender roots right out of the ground.

Most people knew very little about snowflakes until 1931 when Wilson Bentley, AKA Snowflake Bentley, published an album called Snow Crystals containing 3,000 pictures of snowflakes that he photographed through a microscope.

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Growing up in Jericho VT, he was fascinated by the varied shapes and symmetrical structure of snowflakes. He said that snow was as beautiful as butterflies or apple blossoms. At age 17 he got a camera and began experimenting with microphotography. He learned that most crystals have 6 almost identical branches and that no design is repeated. Each flake starts as a frozen speck of ice or dust called a condensation nucleus. Molecules of water attach to this nucleus to form branches. As the crystal grows, the branches trap air. The final form the crystals take depends on how they fall through the air and the conditions they encounter on the way down. Star-shapes called stellars form in low clouds. Hollow crystals called columns develop in high cirrus clouds. Crystals that spin around as they fall will be almost perfectly symmetrical hexagons called plates. Other forms of snowflakes are capped columns, needles, and spatial dendrites. 

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The shape of a snowflake determines whether it will be sticky snow, great for building snowmen or the fluffy powder that skiers love. Powder is a blend of column and plate-shaped crystals that prevent the snow from packing down. There are over 1,000 snow crystals in one cubic inch of snow.

Even though snow removal is a back breaking chore, we need the moisture that each snow crystal provides for our gardens. Next time you are out shoveling, remember Snowflake Bentley and try to think of butterflies and apple blossoms.

See a guide to snowflake shapes!

About This Blog

Get inspired by Robin Sweetser's backyard gardening tips. Robin has been a contributor to The Old Farmer's Almanac and the All-Seasons Garden Guide for many years. She and her partner Tom have a small greenhouse business and also sell plants, cut flowers, and vegetables at their local Farmer's Market.

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