Best of
 Wild Things…
Snow in the Wild Garden
By Karen Vizzi
  On my daily trip to fill the bird feeders, I am struck by how quiet the wild garden is under this heavy blanket of snow. It’s as if the circus has packed up and gone. But although all appears lifeless at the moment, I know that just beneath the surface, garden life is just taking a long nap.
   Snow is one of the very best plant mulches, providing that the snow cover is consistent throughout the winter months. Snow keeps the ground underneath an even temperature and provides moisture. It also insulates against alternate freezing and thawing cycles and icy wind damage …all of which would be deadly for exposed plant crowns. Fortunately, here in Western New York, we can pretty much be assured of consistent snow cover.
   However, snow can also be damaging to certain plants, especially if it is wet and heavy. If heavy snow builds up on the branches of small trees and shrubs, the weight can cause a branch to become misshapen, or even break. The soft, exposed tissue of a broken branch is a sure invitation to winterkill. The easiest way to remove snow buildup is to sweep it off with a kitchen broom. Simply shaking off the snow will also work, but you run a greater risk of breaking branches. It is especially critical to do this kind of snow removal before it turns to ice. This will occur most often when a significant temperature drop follows a sunny day. Also pay attention to what is developing above plantings. Foundation shrubs in particular are vulnerable to icicles and mini avalanches from roof and overhangs.
   Specific plants I try to keep clear of snow include rhododendrons, azaleas and lilacs or any shrub that blooms on old growth. The buds for next year’s flowers are already formed and present on these plants.  I don’t want to lose these flowers, so I gently brush the snow off with a small whiskbroom. I don’t worry about plants like buddleia (butterfly bush) or lavender because these plants bloom on new growth and will be pruned back severely in spring.
   Snow can also provide shelter for wildlife. A snow-covered brush pile makes a great windbreak for songbirds, rabbits and other critters. So whether you love it or hate it, snow plays a very important role in the winter wild garden!

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