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Snow In The Garden FAQ

Snow In The Garden FAQ

By Kristina Howley, Proven Winners ColorChoice
Photographs courtesy of Proven Winners ColorChoice

Snow: Whether you love it or hate it, it’s normal to worry when you see it in the garden. It’s important to know that shrubs are often tougher than we give them credit for, and even after a rough winter, they’ll usually emerge in spring looking like they’ve never experienced a day of cold in their lives. Still have concerns? No worries: I’ve gathered a few of the most common questions we get from gardeners when snow threatens to fall.

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Is snow good for plants?

In cooler climates, snow cover is great for hardy plants! It helps insulate them against harsh temperature drops and keeps moisture from being pulled out of the plant by chilly winds.

In warmer climates that don’t often get snowfall, snow can sometimes shock tender plants. If you’re seeing snow in the forecast, go lay a fabric sheet over your most vulnerable plants and secure it on the edges. Resist the urge to use a tarp or any plastic sheeting. If this material touches the plant, it can end up doing more harm than if the plant were left uncovered. Remove the sheet when the risk of cold and snow have passed.

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Will plants survive under snow?

It all depends on the plant and your growing zone. If you are gardening with plants that are hardy in your zone in a place where snowfall is normal, you should be all set. If you have a few annuals or tender perennials in your garden that you’re experimenting with, they may not survive after a cold winter, though they can sometimes surprise you.

It’s more complicated if you live in a warm zone with temperatures that don’t often dip below freezing. Your plants will have the best chance at survival if the temperature drop isn’t too extreme and it doesn’t last long. However, if the cold spell is severe and long lasting, you’ll likely see some damage and plant loss. If this happens, resist the urge to tidy things up right away. Give the plant several weeks to recover and begin growing again before doing anything too drastic.

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Is snow water good for plants?

Yes! Dry soil is potentially one of the biggest problems a garden faces in the wintertime. So, as the soil thaws and the snow melts, the plants will be able to use that available water. If you have an unusually dry winter, you may need to water your garden during warm spells. It might feel weird, but it will benefit the plants.

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Should I brush the snow off my plants in the winter?

There is no need to brush the snow off of a plant or a shrub unless it’s one that is vulnerable to damage, like tall shrubs with long, upright branches that could flop or split from the weight. Here are a few shrubs that benefit from being brushed* off during heavy snow events:

Arborvitae – Thuja
Rose of Sharon – Hibiscus 
Yew – Taxus

*Only brush the snow off, don’t try to shake it off as this can cause brittle branches to break.

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Should I remove ice from my plants? 

No. Removing ice from a shrub will often result in much worse damage than if you had left it. Ice will melt naturally in time, usually leaving the plant unharmed. If the ice was heavy enough to cause damage, you can prune those branches off in late winter while the plant is still dormant.

Should I remove the spent flowers from my hydrangea?

It depends on your preference and/or the plant’s position in your garden; which type of hydrangea you have should be considered as well.

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Preference

Check out the views above and below to decide what fits your aesthetic goal. Some folks like to see dried flowers throughout the winter when little else is showing off. Practically speaking though, it can be helpful to get this task done as early as possible, deadhead everything in fall and leave yourself free to do other cleanup tasks in spring.

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Plant Position

If you find that a lot of snow accumulates in the area your hydrangea is in*, you could deadhead to prevent damage. The large dried flowers collect snow easily and if it’s a big snow event, the weight of the snow can cause the stems to snap. This isn’t usually a huge problem in itself, but sometimes the branch can break in an inconvenient spot that leaves the plant looking uneven. This is most often a problem for panicle or smooth hydrangeas as their flowers tend to be the largest; fortunately, these are also the type that can be safely pruned in spring, so you can neaten up any damage without impacting flowering.

*Like under the eave of your house or in a corner where the wind pushes the snow.

Hydrangea type

While the above applies for all six types of hydrangeas that are grown in gardens, if you live in a cold climate, you should consider leaving the flowers of big leaf hydrangeas in place overwinter. Very cold weather can damage the dormant flower buds on this type of hydrangea, and leaving the spent flower head in place provides a little bit of extra protection that can go a long way toward a more floriferous summer.

What shrubs look good in a snowy garden?

There are three main ways you can bring some interest into your winter garden.

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Accent Colors

Details like colorful stems and berries make it a lot more fun to gaze at a snowy garden. Perfect plants for this are:

blue holly
ninebark
red-twig dogwood
winterberry

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Evergreen Foliage

The sky is the limit in this category! There are many handsome evergreens out there that brighten up the winter gloom, like:

arborvitae
juniper
rhododendron

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Dried Flowers

If you’re interested in a delicate, ethereal garden aesthetic, plant plenty of shrubs with flowers that dry beautifully:

bluebeard
clematis
hydrangea


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