Winter makes a surprise visit—What it means for your garden

garden in snow by Stofko
Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

by Connie Oswald Stofko

Last week, I told you it was it was leaf season and gave you ideas on how to use all those autumn leaves.

But before we could get the leaves raked — many leaves are still on the trees! — we got snow that broke records for Nov. 11.

So what does all this snow mean for your garden?

Snow provides insulation — yay!

“I don’t think this is going to be a bad thing,” said John Farfaglia, extension educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension in Niagara County.

“We just got a nice blanket of snow. With really cold temperatures coming in the next few days, we would rather have snow cover. From that standpoint, it’s a good thing.”

That blanket of snow provides insulation. The snow stays at a steady 32 degrees Fahrenheit no matter how cold the air gets, which protects the roots of plants from colder temperatures. Snow cover also protects plants from big swings in temperatures — when it’s cold one day and balmy the next.

leaves on maple tree during snow
Many of the trees in my neighborhood still have leaves, but the colder temperatures should bring them down in the next week. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

What if your leaves haven’t fallen yet?

If there are still leaves on trees, they will fall soon, Farfaglia said.

With cold temperatures predicted for the next several days, the leaves will probably fall in the next week.

Some trees, such as oaks, retain their leaves through the winter, he noted.

Autumn chores can wait

My neighbor raked her leaves on Sunday into a big pile for me. I wanted to chop them up and use those autumn leaves as mulch and in my compost, but now those leaves are covered in a foot of snow!

And other gardeners are upset because they wanted to dig up tender tubers, such as for dahlias, but weren’t able to get it done this weekend.

What if we don’t have a break in the weather and the snow keeps coming until spring?

“I don’t want to think about that!” Farfaglia said. “That would be a long time without seeing a break in snow.”

It’s likely this snow will melt in the next few weeks and you’ll get a chance to do those autumn chores that you didn’t get to yet, he said.

container garden in snow by Stofko
I wanted to take some of these pots inside the garage before they froze to the ground. I hope I get another opportunity before spring! Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

Will fallen leaves damage the lawn?

Even if you don’t get around to removing leaves from your lawn or garden beds before spring, it shouldn’t be a problem, Farfaglia said. A layer of leaves that is a few inches deep should do little or no damage.

In the spring, you can mow the leaves on your lawn. That should chop the leaves finely. Those bits of leaves will help your lawn.

In your garden beds, you can rake off the leaves or turn them into the soil. (You don’t want to over-cultivate or till your soil so much that you break down the soil structure or hurt the living organisms in the soil, but digging once in a while is okay, he said. Everything in moderation.)

Those big piles of leaves are a different story.

“You don’t want to leave big piles of leaves,” Farfaglia said. “That could cause damage.”

I will retrieve those leaves that my neighbor saved for me on her lawn. I promise!

snowy garden by Stofko
You may not be able to work in your garden right now, but you can enjoy the beauty of this winter wonderland! Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

Enjoy your pretty garden

This snow “is not necessarily a real issue for most gardeners,” Farfaglia said, adding: “Go with the flow.”

For a few days, enjoy the pretty look of your garden in the snow.

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6 Comments on “Winter makes a surprise visit—What it means for your garden

  1. I chuckled when my husband finished raking the leaves and then “planted” the snow gauge. Who knew we would actually have measurable snow the next week?!

  2. I’m thinking this snow, which is not expected to last much beyond the cold snap, will provide a nice final drink to the trees and perennials I planted this fall. Another benefit of snow at this time of year!

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