Bucks County Herald

Elizabeth Ludlow Bowman: Tips for the Compleat Gardener

Not to worry about snow

Crocuses emerging through the snow.

As I write this snow is falling in big clumps, exposing early spider webs in field and forest, filigree, suspended, bedecked, and when the sun returns, bedazzled.

The snow is a great thing for bulbs that have too early emerged, tender leaves preceding buds. The snow is a blanket from Mother Nature to protect those early bulbs from the deep freeze expected this weekend. It will keep temperatures more even for the cells of the leaves. I pause to thank the universe for the blanket.

It would have been best for the gardens to have had constant snow cover through winter for protection of roots from freezing and heaving out. On the other hand that very process is important to the soil organisms to shake things up now and then, loosen up the soil to increase permeability. This is the time to remind gardeners to avoid stepping into garden beds in early spring, crushing the new pathways of the life under the soil surface.

Consider adding stepping stones to beds too deep to weed from the edge to minimize damage to the soil. At least contain it in one spot. Stepping stones can add interest to the garden design and several tiny groundcover plants are available for stepping over as it were.

This winter we have been on a roller coaster of temperatures and many plants seem fooled.

My forsythia is blooming and the stems of early daffodils have been broken by freezing and lie sideways on the new snow. The only recourse would have been to pick them before the cold weather. The snow has slowed us down when we would be out in the gardens cleaning things up and that is okay and by the time you read this a Nor’easter will have dropped another load, or not. This time last March we were snowed in for three days down a half-mile driveway.

The big snow, may weigh heavily on evergreens, bending things down. If you are going to shake them do it gently and throughout the storm if you can.

Do not walk around aimlessly in the snow – bulbs and newly emerging things are under it, stick to paths. Put your gardening tools back in the shed for a while, take the time to browse through seed catalogs and those for non-hardy bulbs and tubers to make any garden spectacular.

Every garden should have dahlias for mid-summer on depending on how early tubers are put in the ground, usually late April is warm enough. Cannas and calla lilies, peacock orchids (acidanthera) and caladium all add variety and splashes of color to the summer garden but must be lifted and stored in autumn and replanted the following spring. None of these are that expensive should you decide to treat them as annuals.

Snow has been known as the “poor farmer’s fertilizer” because as it falls through the sky it picks up nitrogen, sulfur and ammonium which melt into the soil with the snow and feed the plants. The sulfur can acidify soil if the amount is high. When I was a child I ate a lot of snow but now I think I would hesitate to do so because it picks up other elements in the fall to earth.

The melting snow will permeate the soil gently, over several days, and run off less likely. It takes 10 inches of snow to melt down to one inch of water but this is a great way to start the season and we have had enough cold days in a row to kill off some of the bugs that mess with us in warmer weather.

It is what it is.




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