These articles are written to apply to the northeastern corner of Illinois. Problems and timing may not apply outside of this area.
The Benefits of Snow
January 7, 1999
After some delay, the snow of winter has certainly arrived. While opinions may vary on how desirable snow is, in particular the amount that fell, snow actually has several benefits for yard and garden plantings.
One major benefit of a good snow cover such as we now have is snow functions as an excellent insulator of the soil. Without snow, very cold temperatures can freeze the soil deeper and deeper. This could lead to damage of root systems of trees and shrubs.
The insulation effect of snow also helps protect perennials, bulbs, ground covers, and strawberry plantings from alternating freezing and thawing cycles. The soil surface froze over the past few weeks. Without snow, milder temperatures and the sun could warm the soil surface, leading to damage from soil heaving, which can break roots and dry out plant parts. Snow also helps conserve soil moisture over the winter.
If you have not yet mulched perennial beds, with all this snow, you may not have to. If little snow is on the beds, however, this would be the time to mulch. Evergreen branches, such as from the used Christmas tree, are a good material choice. Straw is another suitable material. Mulches could be applied over existing snow.
There are a few drawbacks to snow. Heavy snow can damage trees and shrubs as the weight accumulates on branches. Fortunately, snow from this past storm was fairly dry in most locations. In any event, carefully brush off snow from branches.
The other drawback of snow in the landscape is small animals, such as voles (field mice) are now protected from predators. These pests may gnaw on tender bark at the base of young tree trunks and the stems of shrubs. Voles also will tunnel on the surface of lawns under the snow, making very visible winding trails as the snows melt in spring. Rabbits will also be more likely to feed on tender bark now that the ground is covered.
One final positive on the snow is the enhanced visibility of some landscape plantings. Trees and shrubs with ornamental bark, such as red twig dogwood or river birches, look more brilliant. Ornamental grasses left standing from last season are much more visible. Evergreens may look much greener, especially when a bright red cardinal is sitting in them.
Snow cover makes winter complete. Lets just hope its not too long and brutal!