Snow finally blankets my landscape. I hear a sigh of relief from the gardens as they seem to pull a blanket of snow up under their chins. It is time to sleep at last.
The snow is our friend. It keeps the plants asleep during the winter or dormant season. It insulates them from the fluctuations of temperature. The plant crowns prefer constant conditions. Cold is fine for our hardy plants as long as it remains steady. The snow performs the function of insulation.
Our acreage sits on a hill, a very windy hill. No snow cover in the winter together with extreme wind chill temperatures pose problems for garden plants. It is not unusual in Iowa to have very cold winters with little snow. Many people here say, “If it’s going to be cold, it might as well snow.” For plants, this is definitely true.
Mulching gardens with compost, shredded leaves or wood mulch helps protect the plant crowns. Additional winter mulches which need to be removed in the early spring are straw and evergreen boughs. I used to mulch my perennial beds with straw, but as the gardens grew this became impractical. Using a four-season mulch, watering during droughts, watering new plants throughout their first year and leaving fallen leaves on the gardens until the spring give the plants an excellent chance to survive the winter. When I use more tender plants, I will add winter mulch that I remove in late March or early April. For my roses I have used top soil, straw or fall leaves around the base of the plants.
These photos of my garden show the beauty of the garden in winter. The strong contrast of darks and lights is dramatic. The evergreen boxwood and dwarf conifers add color this time of year and illustrate the garden structure. The huge spruce and white pine serve the same roles on a grand scale.
During fall cleanup we edit the garden, leaving the spent plants that will catch the snow in a beautiful way. Plants with seed heads, such as coneflowers, asters, black-eyed Susans and native and ornamental grasses have been left standing. Woody shrubs, such as hydrangea and dogwood, also catch the snow and make a statement against the background.
Another benefit of editing rather than cutting down the garden in the fall, is that the remaining plants provide food and cover for birds during the late fall and winter. Since snow arrived so late this winter, I was able to enjoy my garden of fall color full of birds into December. My gardens which have become perennial and shrub borders contain hundreds of plants that attract insects, butterflies and birds. Cardinals and blue jays spend most of their time in the windbreak and tree tops. Nuthatches and woodpeckers roam the tree trunks. Juncos, finch, and mourning doves scatter around the ground or visit the hanging bird feeders.
This is my chance to plan for next year’s winter garden!