Where I live we usually receive a moderate amount of snow each winter – enough to transform the landscape and, occasionally, to snow us in completely. Personally I love the snow, but whether your garden typically sees six inches or six feet, the white stuff can be a source of much worry for us gardeners.
No matter how beautiful it looks, snow can cause major problems in the garden. After all, snow is not just cold but heavy, which can spell bad news for plants and garden structures alike. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to help your garden safely sit out the wintry weather until snowmelt.
Protecting Plants from Heavy Snow
Ideally, it’s best to put plant protection in place before any significant snowfall event, but who hasn’t been caught off guard by the weather at some point? The good news is that snow has an insulating effect, so a moderate covering of snow can actually serve as protective blanket against low temperatures for your plants.
Deeper snow is more problematic and really needs to be planned for in advance. Snow – especially of the wet and sticky variety – is heavy. Exactly how heavy depends on its moisture content, but the wetter and stickier it is, the more likely it is to squash plants flat.
Smaller plants are not difficult to protect. Sturdy plastic storage boxes make robust cloches. Opt for transparent ones if they’re to be left on for any length of time (and remember to brush the snow off to allow light in!). Opaque is fine for a day or two. An upturned plant pot will also work for short periods. For early-sown hardy seedlings, used plastic drinks bottles with the bottom cut off are a neat solution.
Larger plants are best protected by low tunnels, and it’s not difficult to make your own. Plastic water or gas pipe is a good cheap material for making hoops, and is easily cut to size using a hacksaw. The hoops need to be securely fixed in place so they don’t flop under snow loading. Slide each end over a length of rebar hammered into the ground, or feed the ends into rigid plastic piping. Link them with a central crosspiece. You can reinforce tunnels further by cladding them with wire mesh fencing before adding your cover.
The curved shape of a tunnel naturally sheds snow. Plastic covers keep plants dry and warm but if snow does build up on top the whole thing may collapse, so remove accumulations. Avoid using horticultural fleece, as the weight of snow can tear the fabric.
Evergreens and Snow
Deciduous woody plants that stand naked in winter are usually fine left to their own devices, but evergreens are more vulnerable. Heavy accumulations of snow can cause them to splay out, ruining their shape. You can plan to prevent snow damage in the summer by trimming your evergreens so that they taper towards the top.
When the snow starts to get deep, wrap up warm and take a trip around the garden with a long-handled broom or rake, gently dislodging snow from evergreen shrubs and hedges as you go.
Despite the cold, it’s nice to have a garden task to focus on at this time of year. It’s worth checking on other plants and outbuildings at the same time. Small mammals such as rabbits can use the snow to clamber over obstacles to get into your garden or nibble tree bark, so dig away any snow that has piled against fences and tree guards. With jobs like this to do, you’ll be warm in no time!
Garden Structures and Snow
It’s not just plants that are at risk from snow loading. Dislodge snow from the roofs of sheds and greenhouses where possible. Polytunnels, like low tunnels, have a shape that encourages snow to slip off but if it does cling in large quantities it can collapse the whole structure. Knock it off if you can do so without being buried alive!
Fruit cages are sometimes forgotten but, despite being mostly made up of holes, netting roofs can hold a lot of snow. When it caves in this may damage not just the netting but potentially the fruit cage frame too. And heavy loads of snow landing on the plants within could cause branch breakage, which means less fruit next season.
It is best to remove roof netting from fruit cages in advance. As soon as my autumn raspberries are done for the season I roll away the roof netting, just in case of any unexpectedly early snowfalls.
Harvesting in Snow
It can be perturbing to find your winter crops interred beneath a shroud of snow, but that snow actually insulates the soil and prevents it from freezing too hard. This means it’s often possible to dig down through the snow and lift root crops such as parsnips that have been left in the ground. If you can find them that is!
Brussels sprouts, cabbage, purple sprouting broccoli and hardier varieties of leek can also withstand being stranded in snow and remain in good harvesting condition until you’re prepared to brave the weather to seek them out.
Do you have any tips for coping with snow in your garden? Please share them with us by adding a comment below.