A GROWING CONCERN: Get ready to break into snow business

I RETURNED HOME this last week after visiting my son, an Air Force staff sergeant and his wife in balmy South Carolina where temperatures were in the 70s and 80s. Of course, as I got home and drove up the hill to my house it was snowing.

That got me to realize that soon, very soon, it could come down in large amounts and possibly wreak havoc on your garden.

Well fear not, for snow is good for insulating your garden and actually increases the soil temperature by trapping in heat.

Furthermore, the damage or problems caused to your perennials, grass, ground cover and other herbaceous plants is repaired quite easily.

If you remember from past articles, cleaning up, pruning out and then properly repairing or thinning out the cracked, twisted branches of your woody shrubs, bushes and trees is your primary concern after a snowfall and should be done very soon after the snow falls.

Never forget to deeply undercut the branch that is to come down before sawing away. If you don’t do this, a very nasty long strip of bark will be torn away as it falls, causing more damage to the remaining plant than the destroyed branch.

Now, let’s focus on your prize perennials and grass and what, if anything, you should do about heavy snow damage. It is important to let the snow and ice melt away naturally (repeat this). These plants are far more sensitive to increased damage if you go in and push around the snow.

And where does it go? You can easily damage other plants by tossing the snow into other seen or unseen neighboring plants. So as you wait for the big meltdown to finish, begin by preparing the necessary tools that you will need for the ensuing tasks.

First, sharpen up your pruners and then lube them well, you are going to use them. Get your carpet hunks out, 5-gallon buckets and tarps ready. Clear the way to your compost pile.

Now you are ready to go out and clean up the snow-compressed plants.

Ornamental grasses have definitely been crushed by the white stuff. Begin by trimming away the obvious blades that are bent over. Use your gloved fingers (some grasses are saw blades) to comb through the grass blades, holding them upright and cutting them off. But remember, you must absolutely leave a good amount of the cane standing. You are only cutting away that plant material that is permanently bent and crushed, while leaving the stiff upright canes uncut. Next year’s blades (leaves) are all encompassed in those stalks, and by cutting too low you will permanently damage next year’s foliage.

As we move now to other perennials, remember this: You are only cutting away those plant parts that are crushed, snapped, permanently bent over or matted to the ground.

Many perennials need some of the old plant above the ground, filtering the light and lightly mulching the soil.

If you go into your garden mums, for example, cutting them down to the ground rather than just trimming away a few inches of cracked, mashed top branches, bad things will happen.

Without that cover of branches and stems (light mulch), late winter sun will cause them to sprout way too early and this greatly increase the likelihood of spring frost damage.

So on all your perennials, cut away only that which is truly damaged or sludged out — leave the rest.

On low-growing ground cover or perennials like rock cress, perennial alyssum, creeping flax, etc., it is a good idea to decompress them. These low-growing, dense, small leaf plants are easily matted down by the weight of snow.

The moisture and future rains will continue to tack these leaves together and rot will certainly cause the foliage to deteriorate.

Again, with your fingers, carefully lift them, shake them and vibrate them until they again become loose, airy and decompressed.

This is very important.

As far as your lawn is concerned, if you for some far out reason have not heeded my always repeated advice to lime and overseed your lawn, do so today.

Right now, on top of the snow is fine, just do so today, otherwise just sit back and watch how dark green your grass will become from all this moisture.

Finally, if the snow or clumps falling from the roof or surrounding trees have damaged roses, hydrangeas, various vines or bushes like potentillas and spireae, take this opportunity to cut them back very low, very hard, like they are supposed to be pruned. If they are not damaged, leave them alone until Feb. 10 to Feb. 20.

With that said, if you throw plant damaging rock salt around to melt the ice, please go get a bag of gypsum — it will neutralize the effects of the salt and help lower the pH of your soil.

I really do love the snow. And please, please stay well all!


Andrew May is a freelance writer and ornamental horticulturist who dreams of having Clallam and Jefferson counties nationally recognized as “Flower Peninsula USA.” Send him questions c/o Peninsula Daily News, P.O. Box 1330, Port Angeles, WA 98362, or email [email protected] (subject line: Andrew May).

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