Thursday, January 27, 2011

Snow, Snow and More Snow... A Benefit for the Garden


Japanese gardeners refer to the snow formation above as sekka... snow blossoms. I had never seen them before our snowfall last winter... they are lovely.

Gardeners have long cherished snow as it forms a natural insulation for premature thawing. Since moisture in the soil expands as it turns to ice, a premature thaw followed by a freeze can cause the bed to heave disturbing the roots of small plants nestled there. It has been scientifically proven that a small layer of light fluffy snow can insulate the flower bed completely allowing for a tolerable temperature beneath it. Amazingly, a bone chilling temperature of minus 14 degrees Fahrenheit and a nine inch layer of snow can ensure the soil at the surface remains a relatively cozy 28 degrees. Snow also provides protection from drying winter winds and allows the bacteria in the soil to continue the work of decomposing organic matter leftover in the garden.

An odd benefit of pollution is the fact that snowflakes collect the airborne particles of automobile exhaust and add it to their composition as they fall. Most exhaust is composed of nitrates, which are the principal component of well balanced fertilizers. Today’s snow may be a noxious cocktail of chemicals that make for poor tasting ice cream, but its benefit to the garden is boundless.

The Japanese, famous for their dedication to gardening, have long revered snow and consider it integral to their garden displays. They have garden tours during the snow and even use yukimi (snow viewing lanterns) strategically placed about the garden for maximum effect. Snowflakes collected on tree branches are called sekka (snow blossoms). Trees are carefully pruned and supported with stakes to allow the canopy to collect the snow without collapsing.

In spite of the obvious inconvenience, our friends to the east may remind themselves that snow provides a multitude of benefits for the garden. It also gives stunning visual continuity and provides an unsurpassed aesthetic beauty during boring winter months... Snow is indeed a miraculous feat of nature.