Many Southerners hate snow. But have you ever asked your plants how they feel about it? No? Then put down that pitcher of spiked eggnog, turn off the 40-year old Bing Crosby tape, and hop to it. Because depending on the type and amount, snow can be a blessing or a curse for plants. Here’s why.
Two Reasons Snow Is A Blessing
1. Snow, as you probably learned in high school science class, is a form of frozen water. Plants like water. But they’d prefer to receive it slowly and steadily, rather than all at once. Melting snow releases water gradually into the soil, rather than pouring it out in a flood that runs off. This is good.
2. Snow is one of nature’s great insulators. The temperature beneath a blanket of snow can easily be 20 degrees warmer than that above. This protects plants from the ravages of severe cold. The classic example of this phenomenon is seeing a row of forsythias blooming profusely near the ground in spring without a single flower above that. The snow layer saved the tender flower buds on the bottom from freezing to death. Moreover, plants not reliably hardy in your area will often survive winter if covered by snow.
Two Reasons Snow Is A Curse
1. The colder the air is all the way from cloud to ground, the smaller, lighter, and less moisture-laden snowflakes are. We call this “dry snow.” It’s the perfect type for sledding, skiing, and forming massive drifts that conveniently swallow your annoying neighbor and his SUV with Clemson Tiger plates without a trace. The South sees relatively little of this snow, because it’s just not cold enough long enough.
Instead, we get plastered with “wet snow.” Wet snowflakes are larger, heavier, and contain much more water, because they fall through alternating colder and warmer air layers — forming, melting, refreezing, and clumping together on the way down.
This is the legendary stuff that knocks down trees, cuts the power to your house, and makes the best snowballs for pummeling your siblings into whimpering submission. Its weight can crush, split, or give a permanent lean to both broadleaf and needleleaf evergreens. Boxwood, rhododendron, camellia, arbor vitae, and juniper are particularly prone to this. So before you discover that breaking up is actually quite easy to do, take a broom and brush off the heavy, wet snow from these plants.
2. Snow, of course, covers more than plants. It falls on porches, steps, sidewalks, and driveways too, making walking on these surfaces even more dangerous than stepping between Kanye West and his ego. If at all possible, do not use a salt product to melt snow or ice. Salt destroys the soil, poisons plants, and corrodes your car. Use kitty litter to improve traction instead.