In the Garden: Dreaming of a white Christmas | Gardening

“I’m dreaming of a white christmas

Just like those I knew

Where the treetops shine,

And the children listen

Hear the sleigh bells in the snow.

Bing Crosby grew up in Spokane, and when he sang about White Christmases he knew what he was talking about. But according to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, most of the United States has a less than 50% chance of seeing snow on Christmas in any given year. In many areas the probability is practically zero. Brenda White of Seattle was confronted with the December weather facts in western Washington when she wrote the Christmas carol “Christmas in the Northwest” with lyrics that include “this may not be white, could be a rainy night ”.

Sorry, but this is not the time I want for Christmas.

I am with Bing. If you dream of a white Christmas, maybe the wish will come true. After all, I grew up in Buffalo, NY Of course scoffers are complaining that all that white stuff scolded traffic through mountain passes last week and caused fender-bender mayhem. But the snow is a gift for our Valley, where the water supply is often uncertain. And snow offers benefits far beyond the water it provides.

It would take a Grinch to deny that a white blanket turns a barren winter wonderland into a breathtakingly beautiful masterpiece. The snow hides all my mistakes and turns the ordinary in my garden into something extraordinary. Trees and shrubs with ornamental bark, such as red dogwood or paperbark maple, are even brighter against snow. The wilted perennials I left standing are frosted with sparkling diamonds. And all the leaves that I never finished just disappear, at least until the snow melts.

On the practical side, a snow coat provides significant insulation for the floor, like the down duvet on your bed. Snowflakes are specifically designed to include small spaces filled with air with low thermal conductivity. As they build up, it becomes more difficult for the freezing temperatures to penetrate the soil where the roots could be damaged. Ten inches of fresh snow containing 7% water is approximately equivalent to a 6-inch layer of fiberglass insulation with an R-value of R-18. During Yakima’s snowless winters, freezing temperatures can freeze the ground deeper and deeper, making damage to vulnerable perennials and shrubs more likely.

The insulating effect of snow also protects perennials, bulbs and ground covers from the alternating freeze and thaw cycles. Without snow, a period of milder temperatures and bright sunshine could heat the ground surface, causing frost heave. An increasing volume of ice spreads outward from the depth of the ground where freezing temperatures have entered, and newly planted perennials and bulbs may actually be lifted off the ground. During winters without snow, frost problems can be magnified where plants face the morning sun. Under these conditions, they can thaw too quickly, breaking down their cell walls and causing damage or death. Snow cover alleviates these problems and can also protect small conifers and broadleaf conifers from drying winter winds.

Snow helps conserve soil moisture. Soil temperatures drop more slowly in wet than dry soil due to the heat of fusion generated by freezing water in the soil. During cold spells, the roots are kept warmer than the air temperature under their snow cover.

If it snows before the ground freezes too much, it is easier to dig up root crops like carrots and parsnips. If the snow keeps the soil from freezing, the roots will continue to grow and the earthworms and bacteria in the soil will continue to turn garden debris into beneficial compost.

Of course, there are dangers to the garden from too much snow. Heavy build-up can bend, break or split branches, and plants can uproot. Shaking excess snow off trees, shrubs, and hedges, especially evergreens, can help keep them from collapsing under the weight. It makes sense to remove heavy snow from greenhouse roofs and cold frames not only to let in light but also to prevent structures from bending under the weight.

Another negative point is that small animals now have some protection from predators and have more freedom to gnaw on your ornamentals. Rabbits, voles, and mice are more likely to feed on soft bark when the ground is covered in snow.

You will have plenty of time to worry about it later.

Outside, the moon rises over a snowless ridge to the east, but the white dust over the western foothills promises more to come. Have a merry little Christmas, whether it’s white or not. May your gardens sleep in heavenly peace.

Carol Barany and her husband, John, found paradise on 1 1/3 acres just west of Franklin Park, where they raised three children and became master gardeners. Contact her at

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