Why Cold is Good for the Garden

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The weather outside is downright cold. Our hibernation from the cold outside is a reminder that winter is the traditional season of rest and preparation for renewal. The wind, ice and snow drifts are a reminder  that we humans need to rest and relax! Did you know that some plants also need a little R & R?  In fact, some plants require the cold of winter in order to thrive in the spring and summer. 

There’s an old saying that goes “A good winter with snow makes all the plants grow.” Here are seven reasons why cold and snow are good for your garden: 

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Cold temperatures help eliminate predatory pests

While you’re cuddled up inside, the cold and snow are hard at work knocking down the numbers of predatory pests in your yard,  like ticks, thrips, mosquitoes and flies. Adult insects and immature nymphs can’t withstand freezing temperatures. Insect eggs may survive in the folds of leaves or stems, and some insects will burrow into trunks and branches, but the deep cold will help eliminate any pests exposed to harsh wind, cold, snow and ice. 

Deep cold helps germination

Mother Nature has an incredible way to ensure that plants, in particular some perennials, trees, and shrubs, survive winter to bloom and reproduce in the spring and summer. 

Plants collect and store energy over the warm weather months. All that energy is stored in the plant’s roots. During the cold season, the energy becomes a resource to help the plant gather strength in time to bloom, foliate and grow when warmer temperatures return. Without cold temperatures, the perennial wouldn’t receive the signal from Mother Nature that it is time to awaken from dormancy and transfer all that energy into growth. The deep cold actually helps the plant gather strength that will enable it to grow and emerge the following season stronger than ever.  

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Deep cold and moisture help seeds become healthy plants

Outside, in the wild habitat of your yard, cold temperatures are required to help prepare seeds to germinate. In fact, germination is a true miracle of nature! 

In the warm months, a plant grows, thrives and ultimately seeks to reproduce, dropping seeds and nuts that will become future plants. These seeds develop a tough outer coating, or shell, to protect the tender embryo inside. During the winter, seeds in dormancy are tossed and turned by the impact of moisture (snow and ice) and temperatures (frosting, freezing and thawing). This movement helps break down the seed’s shell. A deep cold will speak to the seed’s embryo, encouraging it to grow and expand until it eventually breaks through the softened shell  to seek warmth, light and nutrients on the earth’s surface. 

This process, called cold stratification,  is common and ultimately necessary for perennials, shrubs and trees to perpetuate the circle of life. 

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Snow is an excellent insulator of soil

Snow is mostly air surrounded by a little frozen water, and despite how cold it feels to the skin, it is an excellent insulator of the soil. Sudden temperature drops without the moisture and protective barrier of snow can cause soil beneath the surface of your yard to freeze deeper and deeper. This deep freezing of the soil could lead to damage of root systems of trees and shrubs.  Snow acts like a layer of insulation to  prevent extreme cold temperatures from harming plants.

Snow protects against wide temperature fluctuations in the soil 

Under that cozy blanket of snow, the roots of perennials, bulbs, evergreens, ground covers, and other plants are protected from the freeze-thaw cycle that might damage tender roots. Remember: the energy stored in those roots is vital for regrowth, and damage to the roots will lead to unhealthy or even dead plants. Without snow, heat from the winter sun, combined with sustained mild and/or dry weather, will warm the soil’s surface, making it hard for the plant to experience the resting period (dormancy) it needs to grow in Spring. Also, continuously warm, dry weather will lead to broken roots and dessicated plant parts, like stems, branches and leaves.

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Snow is great fertilizer

Did you know that nitrogen attaches to snowflakes as the snow falls through the atmosphere? Nitrogen also falls in rain, sleet and even lightening. Cumulatively, rain and snow deposit between two and twelve pounds of nitrogen per acre of land every year! That’s why The Old Farmer’s Almanac calls snow a “poor man’s fertilizer.” Nature provides a gentle fertilizer boost to feed your plants, and you don’t even have to pay or work for it!

Snow is winter’s mulch

A nice blanket of snow can replicate the protective service of mulch. In fact, snow is simply Mother Nature at work, providing plants a valuable winter protection. If you don’t have a consistent snow cover, of course, do make sure you mulch. In most cases, 2 to 4 inches of mulch, such as straw, pine needles, hay or bark chips, give adequate protection. 

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Further Thoughts

While it’s true that snow and ice can threaten branches and expose tender bark to hungry small animals, your garden needs the moisture and protection of snow to survive and thrive. The next time you are out shoveling, remember the benefits of snow, and think of leafy, fruitful plants, pollinators drinking from blooms, and the gorgeous textures and colors of your garden. You might be a little more grateful these freezing cold (but hopefully cozy) winter days.

Need help with choosing plants that thrive in our growing zone? Ask a Homestead Gardens expert! You can message us on FaceBook or Instagram at @homesteadgardens, email us at [email protected], or simply stop by one of our stores!