A snow-covered garden

by Adam Pasco

Most of us were probably keener to stay warm indoors during the snow than venture outside to clear snow from plants.

A snow-covered gardenHas the snow been a good or bad thing for our gardens? Well, probably a bit of both, but I do live in hope that the cold weather has helped kill off a few garden pests. We've all had our fair share of snow over the past couple of weeks, with varying degrees of frosty weather in between. I like to think a deep carpet of snow, although clearly at zero degrees or less, is actually insulating plants below from even colder air temperatures above. Hopefully no harm will come to the perennials and bulbs hidden out of sight.

Heavy snow can weigh down branches, especially on evergreens and conifers, and even break or distort them if it isn't brushed away. Most of us were probably keener to stay warm indoors during the snow than venture outside to clear snow from plants. Clearing it from the car and drive was hard enough!

Freezing and thawing does play a part in breaking down heavy clay soils. This is one reason why it's recommended to roughly dig over areas in autumn and leave the surface with big clods for the weather to work on over winter. I'm sure it helps to let the frost penetrate your soil where you can.

I have been worrying about the birds. My bird bath was covered by a 15cm deep layer of snow when I woke up on Thursday morning, so it was important to get out with a kettle of boiling water to melt the snow and give birds some fresh water to drink. Peanut and seed feeders have been replenished, too, so food and water are available to all my regular feathered friends.

Cold weather tests the hardiness of plants to the limit, and we'll have to wait until spring to see whether or not some have succumbed to the cold and died while others have shrugged it off. Last winter I manoeuvred a very large pot of oleander from the patio back into the greenhouse for winter, but this year I left it out as an experiment to see just how hardy this Mediterranean favourite really is. Time will tell!

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Gardeners' World Web User 12/02/2009 at 17:21

This weather is not only a test for the birds plants and other wild life its certainly a test for the pots the plants are in, mine are suffering this winter with chuncks of pots allover its been the worst winter for pot casualty even my hanging bird bath.frost free means not 2009 winter frost free. Anyway keep warm we'll collect them up in the spring and make some mosaques out of them.

Gardeners' World Web User 13/02/2009 at 11:06

Good point. When is a frost resistant pot really frost-proof? When buying terracotta pots do check whether they really are robust enough to withstand a good old-fashioned British winter. Pot makers like Whichford Pottery do guarantee their pots a frost-proof for 10 years, I believe. So, how do they manage this? I think it's a combination of the quality of the clay they use and more importantly the very high temperature used to fire their pots. The old addage 'you get what you pay for' springs to mind. Cheaper imported pots may not be as robust as more expensive pots made by potters in this country. Perhaps a potter out there could post a comment wit more detail.

Gardeners' World Web User 13/02/2009 at 11:32

Adam - I too have a large oleander in a pot - have managed to keep it for about 10 years now but do always put it in an unheated greenhouse over winter except for when I lived in South Devon and there it survived quite happily although I don't think we had a frost in the 4 years we lived there. I am pleased to say it looks OK in the cold greenhouse even though we had weeks of frost after New Year and then, of course, the recent snow.

Gardeners' World Web User 13/02/2009 at 15:29

I find that my Insectivorous plant like the snow as it keeps the ice and cold out of the growing tips / buds. I have posted some photos of my insectivorous bog with snow on and it looks great. www.insectivorusplants.co.uk. I also feel the snow helps to hold some of our plants back as we have had a number warm winters and spring plants have came out too quick and I feel may damage them in the end as they sometime re- flower again later as the season is longer then in the past.

Gardeners' World Web User 13/02/2009 at 18:28

not many terracotta pots are hardy I have some very heavy made in England types and even those have perrished, the best ones seem to be the grey ones that look as though they are made of concrete, had some of those since 1970's good as new even now and ofcourse the heavy glazed pots do rather well but it is the fact that they get wet if you leave them out and when the big freeze comes the soil freezes expands and the pot explodes.

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