Learn to Love Snow
text and photos : Norma A. Hubbard (February 2020)
So far this winter, we have gone through days of sun, rain, freezing rain, ice pellets and snow, sometimes all in one day. Temperatures have fluctuated above and below freezing. This is not a good situation. This is winter; winter is suppose to be cold with snow. I love snow. Always have and always will. Even as a child I loved playing in the snow, and early on children learn that snow gives them days off from school! (As a teacher, I still appreciate snow days). Now, don’t get me wrong, I do not love driving in a snowstorm anymore than the next person, but that should not take away a love for snow. We need snow; our plants need snow.
I am sure many of you can recall learning about the water cycle in science class. Precipitation comes from the sky, it falls to the earth, it fills our rivers, lakes, oceans, and then evaporation occurs and returning water to the atmosphere, continuing the cycle. Snow, instead of rain, forms when the atmospheric temperature is below freezing. It was so simple; however, with climate change that cycle is a mess. According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center (yes, there is such an agency), snow is essential in regulating the earth’s temperature, which is rising at a scary rate.
So what does snow do for our plants? In winter when the temperature drops, snow works as insulation to protect plants. Only 30 cm or about a foot of snow is needed to keep plants regulated. Even in winter, cold winds can dry plants out and severe cold can destroy plants. Snow keeps moisture in and prevents fluctuations in temperatures providing plants with a mini biodome. In the spring, as the snow melts, it provides the much needed moisture for plants to grow.
When we have rain, or melted snow that freezes, it produces ice, this is not good. Unlike snow, which is porous, ice forms a barrier that does not ‘breathe’ that can kill plants. Even when there is snow on top of ice, the damage is already done. In fact, the snow essentially ends up preserving the ice instead of the plant! Our plants have evolved to deal with snow, not ice. Evergreen needles have waxy coatings to prevent moisture loss and branches that bend and allow snow to slide off; ice does not slide off, instead it coats the branches and drags them down until branches break. Deciduous trees and plants evolved by going dormant and by ‘giving up’ their leaves each fall in order to prevent excessive moisture loss, however without snow cover, the ground freezes too deeply and may damage roots.
We need snow cover. Our maple trees, our apple trees, and our growing wine industry needs snow to insulate the vines during the winter. Our farms need snow to protect and to water the soil. Think of snow as a blanket Mother Nature provides for the plants. Plants, like people, love to snuggle under a blanket when it is cold!
Animals have more options than plants, as they can migrate or hibernate, or grow denser fur coats! We, like the animals, can do the same. Many people head south, some people almost hibernate, only poking their noses out when it is warm, or when they need more food, like a raccoon, and we can put on warmer clothing if we want to venture out! Snow is part of living in Hemmingford. I know it is difficult when the temperature drops and we feel it is too cold to be outside, however, we should not dread the snow, but rather look at snow as a delight … and definitely as something we need for our plants.
Source: “All About Snow.” National Snow and Ice Data Center. Accessed 1 February 2020. https://nsidc.org/cryosphere/snow