Snow is magic no matter what your age. It always makes for good stories.
Ah, yes, I remember it well … As a child growing up in Missoula, Mont., the snow piled up to the eaves of the house, and we had to walk miles to school in the cold fighting the drifts all the way. … That actually happened only once.
Kids love snow. Dogs and cats love to burrow in it. I still make snow angels.
My favorite snow poem is “Velvet Shoes” by Elinor Wylie. Part of the poem reads:
Let us walk in the white snow
In a soundless space;
With footsteps quiet and slow,
At a tranquil pace,
Under veils of white lace …
We shall walk through the still town
In a windless peace;
We shall step upon white down,
Upon silver fleece,
Upon softer than these.
Deep snow, if we get any in the valley this year, is fun to play in and aesthetically pleasing. I leave all sorts of seedpods and decorative grasses not only to feed the birds but also to appreciate the pods’ snow-clad shapes. Sadly, the new snow is ephemeral, falls off and melts and makes slush and turns gray — that is the downside of snow.
However, let’s consider the benefits of snow. It is a form of precipitation and is the source for the water we need for agriculture.
A foot of snow holds about an inch of water. But that can vary depending on how “wet” or “dry” the snow is. One of the reasons Mission Ridge is such a fabulous place to ski is that the snow is “dry,” thus powdery. That is perfect for skiing but not for building water capacity for next summer.
In your yard, snow provides water for trees and shrubs if the soil is not frozen. When I sweep my walk or driveway, I heap the snow under the trees and always put it in the flowerbeds where the eaves shield them from the snowfall.
Most importantly, snow is a soil insulator and prevents perennial plants’ roots from freezing. It is best not to walk on the snowy lawn for two reasons. Walking compacts the soil and breaks the crowns of the grass plants. The compaction is one cause of snow mold on the lawn. Secondly, the snow provides a protection against a hard freeze that could kill the grass plants’ crowns.
I heap up snow all around my compost pile to keep it unfrozen and to prevent the death of all the microorganisms, worms and buggy-wuggies that make the pile work during the warmer seasons.
I also heap snow on the root crops I maintain in the garden over the winter. If it looks like a hard frost with no snow, I first put down about 6 inches of leaf mulch, and then, when the snow comes, I pile the snow to about a foot in depth. There is nothing so fragrant as digging into the soil to retrieve carrots, parsnips or potatoes on a January evening. The sweet soil scent reminds me that another gardening season is not far off. Then, the frost-sweetened crunchy veggies create a delightful dish for dinner that night. What a joy!
Snow cover gives us a chance to re-see our yard. It is a good time to take pictures not just because it is pretty but also because it will help us plan next spring’s gardening tasks. That grass that never thrives? It easily might be seen that the snow is very thin or the ground is bare under or extending out from a large conifer. Abandon the lawn and instead plant a shade-tolerant groundcover. That task will make your lawn care much less frustrating.
Snow allows you to re-see the shape of the landscaping. It points out blank spaces or places where it is too congested. Again, take pictures and plan changes in those areas that are not attractive now. They are the weak part of your landscaping design in the summer as well.
Enjoy the snow and make time for a cup of cocoa in front of the fire.
A WSU Master Gardeners of Chelan County column appears weekly in the At Home section. Bonnie Orr is one of three columnists featured.