Keeping The Garden Safe From Snow

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Here Comes The Snow

Ready for snow? Weather pundits are calling for a big fall of snow, coming this week to the Pacific Northwest. Nobody can say yet whether it will hit hardest in Portland, Seattle, or Bellingham, but estimates of how much we’ll get range from six to twelve inches in each area. The past decade has brought us more “hundred-year” weather events than I can recall offhand. If this winter continues harsh, what can we do about it? Depending on the kind of garden you have, not much or quite a lot.

Let Snow Work For You

The good news is that snow is an excellent insulator, protecting plant roots from deep freezes and sudden temperature fluctuations. To protect half-hardy perennials and newly transplanted trees and shrubs, heap dried leaves, shredded paper, or straw generously over their planting area. The snow will turn this into a snug night nursery for your plants,

Do the same for newly planted beds of any kind, mounding the airy material more thickly over tender or vulnerable plants. Place a bamboo cane or a similar marker near the crown of each plant so you can quickly remove the fluffy blankets when thaws arrive.  (Leaving excess mulch in place can create a great environment for molds and mildews.)

If you mostly grow vegetables, annuals, and a few perennials, you won’t need to make any special preparations at all. The usual winter mulch blanket of 3-4 inches of compost will suffice. Here, too, snow will insulate the ground, keeping roots from deep freeze damage.

Jousting With Snowload

If you grow a lot of hardy shrubs, keep a few long bamboo poles around. If we should get a deep, wet snow, use the poles to knock snow off your shrubs to prevent splitting and cracking. That way, you don’t need to wade into the borders, compacting the wet soil and possibly damaging plants hidden by snow. It’s really quite fun to watch the groaning branches spread their wings and fly upward as they shed their snowy load.

Do this every day or even every few hours if the snow burden is heavy, or cause it to be done by younger persons, who often enjoy the drama and chaos of flying snow. Bamboo poles are also useful for pushing snow off cloth or plastic greenhouse roof covers.

Jumping and Thumping

It is easiest to get snow off greenhouses from inside the structure. With pole in hand,  move slowly down the aisle, jumping up high enough to poke the sagging cloth, which usually causes a great crashing cascade of snow to tumble down. Thus, it is also wise to remove any pots or container plants that might be in the path of the falling snow load before starting the jumping and thumping.

The same suggestion applies to any containers or plants located under the dripline of your house or any outbuildings. When snow thaws, it slides down in massive chunks and lands right on top of whatever lies below. Move anything movable and protect the immovable if possible. (You can use deck furniture–sturdy tables and chairs–to protect vulnerable shrubs.)

Take Sensible Precautions, Please!

If your greenhouse is large, start your snow removal project from the outside, for safety’s sake. Last time we got a sudden dump of snow, many greenhouses collapsed under the extra weight. I know one grower whose life was saved by a pair of mittens; as he paused to put them before opening the greenhouse door, the entire structure came roaring down. Yikes!

Protecting Tender Trees

Young and recently transplanted trees are very vulnerable to breakage when we get a heavy, wet snowfall. A few gentle whacks with your bamboo pole should dislodge the snow before it gets dangerously dense. Should ice start to form on branches, a sharp crack of the pole can often break the icy coating before it thickens.

If you grow upright conifers like slim junipers which tend to splay out in snow, buy some pea or bird netting. Give each vulnerable conifer a girdle, lacing the netting together with twine. It doesn’t need to be a compression test, but make the wrapping tight enough that it won’t fall off. When snow comes, those floppy branches won’t be pushed outward, spoiling their shape and strength.

How To Hire A Qualified Arborist

If developers or neighbors have recently cleared the woods around your property, it’s a good idea to call a well trained arborist in to evaluate the damage. Where trees have been removed, changing wind patterns can make formerly safe trees less secure. Be wary, however, of any arborist who wants to top or over-trim your trees. Topping is NEVER the right choice for the tree. It’s better to remove a tree completely than to top it. Better yet is to carefully thin trees that have recently been left exposed to more wind than usual.

A good arborist will thoughtfully remove a few branches in a balanced pattern that allows wind through without damaging the integrity of the tree. A good arborist will never remove more than 25% of live tree branches at one time. A good arborist will never suggest topping a tree or taking down a healthy tree “just in case”.

Where do you find such a paragon? Plant Amnesty in Seattle offers a free referral service for homeowners seeking arborists and pruners. They are also seeking arborists and pruners to refer, so if you have great recommendations, call them. If you had a bad experience with professional pruners or tree trimmers, they’d like to know that too. They’d love to hear from you either way.

Plant Amnesty Arborist Referral Service:
206) 783-9813 and leave leave a voice mail explaining:
* your name and location (city or town)
* phone numbers (day, work, cell)
* email
Find out more by visiting the website at:

This entry was posted in Garden Prep, Pruning, Soil, Sustainable Gardening, Winterizing and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Keeping The Garden Safe From Snow

  1. Good read. Thank you for sharing your suggestions on how to select a qualified arborist. Making use of one seems essential to maintain the integrity of your trees.

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