The Gardener’s Winter

The heavy blanket of snow that we received so early this winter is both a gardener’s blessing and a gardener’s curse.

The snow came fast and heavy in early December, so much so I began to wonder why I bother with winter interest plants when most of them have disappeared under four to five foot snowdrifts. The other concern is the lack of frost in the ground. This usually means an increase in the number of insects that will be around next summer. A good deep frost in the soil assists with killing a percentage of them. Finally is the issue of drainage. Areas (and basements) that are low laying are sure to be at their boggy best once the cold weather is gone.

However, I want to focus on the Gardener’s Blessing that snow provides. I alway try to “stretch” the zone envelope by planting perennials that are more susceptible to cold in sheltered locations on our property, and the additional snow is a great insulator. With temperatures dipping to -25 degrees or less, I’m grateful for this extra blanket on top of them.

Having no frost in the ground allows evergreens, particularly broad leafed evergreens such as holly, boxwood and euonymus to replenish moisture to their leaves. This helps prevent the browning that winter winds cause by wicking moisture away from the leaves.

One of the commonly asked questions that I hear concerns wind chill affection the zone hardiness of plants. If a Zone 5 perennial is rated for temperatures as low as -28,C and the windchill is -36, will it kill my plant?

The answer is no. Plants don’t create heat and their internal temperature is the same as the air temperature, or within a few degrees or so. The wind can injure plants by drying them out or increasing the potential for frost heave, but the plant itself is blissfully unaware of wind chill.