Let it Snow?

By Paul James

It looks as though we could be in for a doozey of a winter storm this weekend that may include ice and snow. So what effect, if any, could freezing precipitation have on landscape plants, and is there anything you need to do in preparation for the storm? Glad you asked.

For the most part, snow is a good thing. Snow is mostly air trapped in ice crystals, and that trapped air acts as an insulator, preventing plant tissues from dropping below freezing. It insulates the soil in the same way, keeping it at or above freezing even when air temperatures plunge.

Wet, heavy snow may bend the branches of evergreens, but as bad as it looks, most of the time the branches will spring back once the snow melts.

Snow has even been called “Poor Man’s Fertilizer,” because as it falls through the atmosphere, nitrogen and sulfur attach to the flakes. That’s actually true, but rain and lightning contain even more nitrogen. And come spring you’ll still need to fertilize.

And yes, snow provides moisture, but not as much as you might think: ten inches of snow equals about an inch of water.

Ice is another story. It sucks. And it can do serious damage. It does insulate plant tissues in a manner similar to snow, but the weight of even a quarter inch of ice can be devastating, as anyone who was around here in 2007 can attest. Whatever you do, don’t try to knock ice off of branches with a stick because you may (and probably will) do far more harm than good.

In terms of preparing for the storm, I’d suggest a trip to your favorite grocer. The weekend looks ideal for cooking beef bourguignon, ragu Bolognese, or maybe a big old pot of chili, all of which freeze well. And don’t forget the vino.