[Reviewed and updated December 2020]
First the age old question: Should I remove snow from my plants? Most of the time it is not necessary. Sometimes, not advisable. If temps are below 20ºF you will break branches easily. If you just can’t take it, use a broom and gently knock off snow while it is fresh. But this may cause more harm than good to your plants as well as to yourself. Learn more from the Chicago Botanic Garden blog, “Snow Removal from Shrubs?”
Snow can also beneficial to plants. It acts as a layer of insulation during frigid winter temps and harsh winter wind while providing moisture and nutrients. Learn more from Purdue University Extension: Snow is Good and from AgWeb: Is there Nitrogen in Snow?
There’s a chill in the air: Another question I hear is can a plant feel wind chill temperature? Actually plants can only feel the ambient temperature…not the ‘feels like’ wind chill temperature that you and I experience. For further explanation on why, see Wind chill doesn’t really matter to a plant from Michigan State University (MSU Extension).
However, winter wind can have an adverse affect on your plants, especially those that are evergreen. That damage is known as desiccation or winter burn. You can see some examples from Oklahoma State University here – Winter Desiccation Injury of Evergreen Shrubs and Trees. Desiccation can occur when a plant experiences low soil moisture (usually from frozen ground or lack of rain/watering), freezing air temperatures with blowing wind. Visit Missouri Botanical Garden Garden Tips on Winter Desiccation to learn some simple steps you can take to avoid this damage.
Resources on winter issues you may experience in your garden
- Clemson Cooperative Extension: Cold Damage – Causes and types of cold temperature damage as well as ways to avoid damage and care for plants with damage.
- Virginia Cooperative Extension: Managing Winter Injury to Trees and Shrubs – Topics include desiccation, or drying out of leaves and evergreen needles, freezing and frost cracks, branch breakage, rodent damage and road salt damage. Also includes ways to avoid damage and treating damaged plants.
- University of Maryland Extension: Winter Damage on Landscape Plants – Topics include leaf scorch, late bud freeze, freeze/thaw damage. Also includes great picture examples and best cultural practices to avoid damage.
- Michigan State University Extension: Your Plants and Winter Animal Damage – Deer, rabbits, and voles oh my!
- University of Minnesota Extension: Protecting trees & Shrubs against Winter Damage – Topics include cold damage, sun scald, discoloration of evergreens, twig die back, frost heave and more with methods to avoid damage.
- For further reading check out “Trees and Ice Storms: Development of ice storm-resistant urban tree populations.” (https://www.kansasforests.org/community_forestry/community_docs/Trees%20and%20Ice%20Storms.pdf) This publication discusses ice storm-resistant tree populations, historical accounts, tree susceptibility and resistance as well as prevention and management.
Snow Day? Try some fingertip gardening. Winter is a great time to assess last year’s garden and to plan and dream for next year’s garden. On Plantsmap.com, you can explore gardens and plants and use our free My Plants Map tools to create your own wish list, plan a vegetable garden or document your plantings.